It wasn't pretty, but it was never going to be pretty in the Cuscatlan. The crowd started arriving at the stadium at noon... for an 8pm game. By the time the game kicked off, the 45,000 royal blue-clad Cuscatlecos had worked themselves into a pentecostal frenzy.
Would the El Salvador players feed off the energy like they did 4 years ago and get that crucial early goal vs Mexico? Not this time. Mexico withstood the early charge and then slowly sapped the stadium of its energy with a slow, methodical, low-risk offense. Chepo de la Torre was content to have his troops use the long-ball to try and beat El Salvador's very high off-side trap. It would only be a matter of time before one of their defenders would be a step slow. As we all know, when you live by the trap, you die by the trap.
Sure enough, Mexico made the home side pay for such a slow step in the second half, when Jesus Zavala broke through the trap and slotted home for the lead. A lead which was short lived thanks to a well taken free kick by Alfredo Pacheco.
A 1-1 draw would have been a potable result anytime one ventures into one of the Central American cauldrons. Mexico was rewarded, however, with a very fortuitous bounce off the head of one Hector Moreno. Mexico escaped with an ugly, but well fought 2-1 win.
A lot of fans, though, seemed to be disappointed not with the final score, but with the administration of it. One of the pundits last night was complaining that Jesus Zavala's goal wasn't pretty enough, and, moreover, Zavala had the nerve to place the ball in the middle of the goal mouth. Such insolence! I have said this many times... soccer is not gymnastics, diving, or ice skating. The judges don't decide who wins or loses, goals do.
What is most important is the result, not the aesthetic. And that is especially true in qualifiers, particularly away qualifers.
Away qualifiers in San Salvador warrant even more precaution, especially for Mexico.
Fans of La Selecta would gladly trade World Cup appearances for victories over Mexico. It's one of their chants, after all "Al mundial no vamos, pero a Mexico le ganamos."
Feeding off the crowd, the Salvadorian players tried to provoke Mexico into making hasty decisions with physical challenges and were emboldened by the Honduran referee's decisions to keep the cards in his pocket.
With the intangibles clearly on in favor of the home side, it should have been no surprise, then, that Mexico opted for a more conservative style of play. Most importantly, it ended up working out. Get the win, that is all that mattered. Ol' ugly is better than ol' nothin'.
While Mexico passed their sternest test of the Semi-final round, El Salvador squandered 3 points at home. It's a shame, really for the Salvadorians, that their limitations prevent them from capitalizing more on what can truly be an awesome home field advantage. They are going to need it more than ever when they host Costa Rica in October.
Because that will be the only way they'll get another shot at what they absolutely live for: beating Mexico at the Cusca.