PASADENA, CALIFORNIA – When Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez headed home an early goal for Mexico, he set off a seismic celebration at a Rose Bowl packed to bursting with green-clad fans.
He also sent Copa America’s other home team rolling toward the next round.
Chicharito scored on a first-half header, and Mexico survived a tense second half to advance to the Copa America quarterfinals with a 2-0 victory over Jamaica on Thursday night.
Substitute Oribe Peralta scored in the 81st minute and goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa made several big stops in El Tri’s 11th consecutive win in international play, including both games in this tournament.
“In general terms, we were superior in front of a great opponent,” said Mexico coach Juan Carlos Osorio, who is still unbeaten in his new job. “If that opponent gets in front of anybody, they will score. We are very satisfied.”
Mexico advanced from its group along with surprising Venezuela, which beat Uruguay 1-0 earlier. Mexico and Venezuela will meet Monday in Houston to determine the higher seed in knockout play.
The Rose Bowl crowd of 83,263 was utterly dominated by cheers for the most passionately supported team in this U.S.-based tournament. El Tri attracts enormous crowds wherever it plays north of the border, but none are consistently bigger and more passionate than those in Los Angeles’ enormous Mexican-American community.
“We thought that we understood how much passion the national team generates in the (U.S.)-Mexican population, but in the last three games, I have to admit that I had no clue,” said Osorio, favorably comparing Mexico’s Rose Bowl support to Manchester United’s backing at Old Trafford.
“Or better yet, I misunderstood, because what we heard today, the noise in today’s match was absolutely amazing,” Osorio added. “It was absolutely outstanding, and I think the players feel that and try to play their best, because we don’t see that as a bad thing. On the contrary, we think it’s fantastic. We can only wish to play every single match in an environment like tonight’s.”
Chicharito put Mexico ahead in the 18th minute with an exceptional goal, outjumping Wes Morgan and claiming an early lead in the rematch of last year’s Gold Cup final. The 28-year-old Hernandez got his 45th career goal for Mexico, leaving him one shy of tying Jared Borgetti’s national team record.
But Mexico struggled in several stretches, relying on big saves and a bit of fortunate refereeing to keep it even, before Peralta came on for Chicharito and promptly scored a late goal.
Ochoa was forced to make several big plays after sitting out the opener, including a diving fingertip save of Michael Hector’s long strike in the 84th minute.
The Mexicans remained unbeaten in 21 consecutive international matches, and they improved to 9-0-0 under Osorio.
Jamaica was eliminated while going scoreless in its second straight Copa America match. The Reggae Boyz pressed throughout the night, but didn’t convert their chances and couldn’t get a call on two potential penalties.
“When you play against a Mexican team, it’s always important you take your chances,” Jamaica assistant coach Miguel Coley said. “We played as a team, and I applaud the team for that. Our expectation for the group was to definitely go to the next round. The penalty calls, and when we missed the chances, those were important moments.”
Despite the raucous fan support — or perhaps because of it — Mexico had a few nervy defensive moments early, including a missed net by Clayton Donaldson on a good counterattacking chance for Jamaica.
Mexico went ahead when Jesus Manuel Corona tracked down Raul Jimenez’s cross and sent it back in front to Chicharito. The Bayer Leverkusen star outjumped Leicester’s Morgan, who didn’t start Jamaica’s opener because coach Winfried Schaefer said he was too tired from partying to celebrate the Foxes’ Premier League title.
Jamaica pressed forward again, but defender Yasser Corona blocked a close shot by Je-Vaughn Watson of the New England Revolution in the 35th minute.
Ochoa made a series of canny stops in the 39th minute as Jamaica pressed forward heavily for an equalizer. Mexico couldn’t counter and struggled even for possession, managing just one shot in the first half.
Jamaica’s strong play continued after halftime. When Yasser Corona took down Donaldson in the penalty area in the 64th minute, Jamaica’s incensed bench demanded what appeared to be an obvious penalty, to no avail.
Mexico finally finished when Hirving Lozano made a long run and found Hector Herrera, who dropped it off to Peralta.
IN FIVE EASY PIECES WITH TAKE 5