MEXICO CITY - When the final whistle blew that completed Mexico's 2-1 win over the United States, the huge crowd of about 110,000 in Azteca Stadium seemed both happy and relieved.
By winning Sunday's World Cup qualifier, Los Tricolores avenged a painful loss three years ago, restored their status as the top team in the region and kept up a 68-year tradition of never losing to the Americans at home.
''To get a result in Azteca is always pretty difficult,'' U.S. midfielder Eddie Lewis said. ''Maybe we're just not quite ready yet.''
Lewis scored the lone U.S. goal in the 59th minute off a feed from Landon Donovan, the first goal in Mexico for the Americans since 1984. Mexico imposed its will for most of the game, getting goals from Jared Borgetti and Antonio Naelson during a four-minute span midway through the first half.
For now, Mexico City's 7,200-foot altitude remains too high an obstacle for the U.S. team to climb. The Americans are 0-22-1 in Mexico, getting their lone point from a 0-0 tie in a 1997 qualifier.
''We were always taking the initiative,'' said Mexico coach Ricardo Lavolpe, who received a congratulatory call from President Vicente Fox. ''For 90 minutes, there was only one team on the field.''
There was some booing and whistling during ''The Star-Spangled Banner'' but the Americans expected worse. After the game, about 100 people gathered for a peaceful celebration near Mexico City's Angel of Independence monument. A few first tried to burn, then trampled a small American flag while chanting ''Osama! Osama!''
Mexico had felt the pressure since its 2-0 loss to the United States in the second round of the 2002 World Cup, a game that dented national pride. But that match was played in South Korea, not Mexico, where the Tricolores are 54-1-4.
A large banner in Estadio Azteca's upper deck proclaimed: ''El Gigante No Ha Muerto,'' or ''The Giant Is Not Dead Yet.'' And Los Tricolores proved that right: Mexico ended both the Americans' 16-game unbeaten streak and their 31-game run without a loss against regional rivals.
''We weren't lucky enough to make it a blowout,'' Lavolpe said.
After a lackluster opening 20 minutes, Mexico began to play the ball wide and dominate, leaving the U.S. team gasping for air.
''Our players shut down the last 15 minutes of the first half, and that cost us the game,'' U.S. coach Bruce Arena said. ''They were completely done at the 30-minute mark, obviously recovered a bit at halftime and were able to play a little bit better in the second half.''
Mexico went ahead in the 30th minute after Francisco Fonseca brought the ball into the penalty area and tipped it to Salvador Carmona, who looped it to Jaime Lozano at the far post. As goalkeeper Kasey Keller raced to cover, Lozano headed the ball back across to Borgetti, who got by Oguchi Onyewu and headed it in from 3 yards out.
''When they got the first one in, I think we just died a little,'' Donovan said.
With the U.S. defense still looking disorganized in the 33rd minute, Cuahutemoc Blanco sent a long pass from midfield to Borgetti, who headed the ball in front of the goal. With Keller coming out, Naelson banged the ball in off the far post from 11 yards.
''That was a really poor goal, one that I'm sure that we'll see two or three times in the next couple of days to try to fix that,'' Keller said.
Lewis had the first good U.S. chance in the 53rd minute but was stopped by goalkeeper Oswaldo Sanchez on a point-blank shot. After Lewis scored on a left-footed shot, the Americans never came close to getting the tying goal.
''We sort of committed our big sin in Mexico City by just dropping off and letting them have the game,'' Lewis said. ''We started too tentatively, too conservatively, I think we gave Mexico too much respect.''
WORLD CUP QUALIFIER