It wasn't simple, but the U.S. and Mexico came through in Wednesday's CONCACAF Gold Cup semifinals in Houston to confirm their heavily anticipated showdown Saturday evening at the Rose Bowl.
The U.S. pulled out a 1-0 triumph over Panama as Clint Dempsey knocked home a brilliant feed from Landon Donovan in the 77th minute to send the Yanks to a record fourth successive title-game appearance in the region's nations championship.
Mexico needed overtime goals from Aldo de Nigris and Javier "Chicharito" Hernandez to conquer Honduras, 2-0, in the nightcap in front of 70,267 spectators at Reliant Stadium. Will the extra 30 minutes provide a boost for the Americans, who spent less time on the field and were finished 3½ hours earlier than their archrivals?
CONCACAF officials announced Wednesday that the game at the Rose Bowl, slated for a 6 p.m. kickoff, is a sellout. It will be the first meeting between the U.S. and Mexico in Southern California since October 2000.
The teams have met in four previous finals, with Mexico winning in 1993 (4-0), 1998 (1-0) and 2009 (5-0) and the U.S. prevailing four years ago, a 2-1 thriller sending the Yanks to the 2009 FIFA Confederations Cup, where they stunned Spain and nearly toppled Brazil in the final.
Saturday's winner will claim a berth in the 2013 FIFA Confederations Cup in Brazil, a precursor to the World Cup the following summer.
A quick look at the 18th day in the Gold Cup:
LANDON AND FREDDY SHOW: Donovan came off the bench again and Freddy Adu made his first appearance in the tournament, and they teamed with Dempsey to propel the U.S. to avenge its group-stage loss to Panama and advance to its eighth final since CONCACAF went to the Gold Cup format in 1991.
On a quick, tight field that limited space and clamped both teams' attacks, the U.S. did just enough to win and required a perfect pass from Donovan to do so. The Yanks might have gone ahead in the 25th minute, when teen forward Juan Agudelo -- starting in place of Jozy Altidore, who could be sidelined up to six weeks because of a hamstring strain suffered early in Sunday's quarterfinal victory over Jamaica -- bounced a snap header off the right post from Steve Cherundolo's deft chip from the right flank.
U.S. coach Bob Bradley kept his lineup intact, Altidore aside, following the superb performance against Jamaica, so Donovan came off the bench again, adding a dimension to the U.S. attack, which broadened when former teen phenom Adu, now 22, came on in the 66th minute, his first international appearance in nearly two years.
The move paid off with Adu's ball from midfield into space for Donovan on the right flank. The Galaxy's captain took it into the box, then pinpointed a low feed to the far post, where Dempsey, behind defender Adolfo Machado, stuck out his leg and tapped it home.
"[Donovan] put a perfect ball in," Dempsey told Fox Soccer Channel after the game. "I just tried to put myself in position. ... All credit to him."
EL TRI ARE LATECOMERS: Mexico survived its second successive closer-than-expected battle with Central American opposition, taking command early in the extra period as de Nigris and Hernandez tallied from Pablo Barrera corner kicks.
Mexico dominated the match, limiting Honduras to four shots in all, hit the post or crossbar three times and saw Catrachos goalkeeper Noel Valladares make a series of superb saves to keep the game scoreless. De Nigris broke the tie in the 93rd minute, soaring over two defenders for a terrific near-post header.
Hernandez netted his tournament-best seventh goal just six minutes later, after another fine de Nigris header from Barrera's corner hit him at the far post and caromed in.
DAYS 19-20 HIGHLIGHT: Flights to L.A. and preparations for Saturday's final. DAY 21: The U.S. and Mexico meet in a Gold Cup final for the fifth time (and third in a row), with the Yanks looking for title No. 5 to match El Tri.
Semifinals (at Reliant Stadium, Houston)
United States 1 (Dempsey 77), Panama 0
Mexico 2 (de Nigris 93, J. Hernandez 99), Honduras 0, OT
Final (at the Rose Bowl, Pasadena)
United States vs. Mexico, 6 p.m. TV: Fox Soccer Channel and Univision (KMEX/Channel 34)
1. Javier Hernandez (Mexico) 7
2. Aldo de Nigris (Mexico) 4
Rodolfo Zelaya (El Salvador) 4
3. Jerry Bengtson (Honduras) 3
Carlo Costly (Honduras) 3
Clint Dempsey (USA) 3
Luis Tejada (Panama) 3
8. Jozy Altidore (USA) 2
Dwayne De Rosario (Canada) 2
Giovani Dos Santos (Mexico) 2
Gabriel Gomez (Panama) 2
Andres Guardado (Mexico) 2
Ryan Johnson (Jamaica) 2
Brice Jovial (Guadeloupe) 2
Demar Phillips (Jamaica) 2
Carlos Ruis (Guatemala) 2
Marco Ureña (Costa Rica) 2