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U.S. stunned, Mexico held as final round kicks off

By Simon Evans

(Reuters) - Olympic champions Mexico made a stuttering start to their bid for a 15th World Cup finals appearance when they were held to a goalless draw by Jamaica at the Azteca Stadium on Wednesday.

The opening three games of CONCACAF's final phase of qualifying witnessed another surprise as Honduras rallied to overcome the United States 2-1, while Costa Rica battled from two goals down to draw in Panama in the other match.

The battle for the region's three automatic spots in Brazil is already shaping as a fascinating one with strong favorites Mexico and the United States likely to feel some early pressure after disappointing performances.

Jamaica produced a superbly disciplined and organized team effort to contain Mexico and scare them on the break, and the Reggae Boyz could well have headed home with all three points.

Reading midfielder Jobi McAnuff should have scored for the visitors in the eighth minute after his initial shot struck the post and he scuffed the rebound into the welcoming arms of Mexico keeper Jose Corona.

Corona was in action again when he tipped a Rodolph Austin effort wide as Jamaica created the chances despite Mexico enjoying the lion's share of possession.

After the break, Jamaica forward Ryan Johnson shot timidly at Corona after breaking through on goal and then it was the turn of Reggae Boyz keeper Donovan Ricketts to spring into action as he twice foiled Manchester United striker Javier Hernandez from close range.

The Mexican crowd turned on their team - booing every touch while cheering on Theodore Whitmore's Jamaicans, who will take great heart from their point.

WOEFUL DEFENDING

Honduras will be even more buoyant after they rallied for a deserved victory over Juergen Klinsmann's team in San Pedro Sula.

The Americans took the lead through a Clint Dempsey volley after a delightfully weighted through ball from Jermaine Jones in the 35th minute.

But an acrobatic overhead kick from Juan Carlos Garcia brought Honduras level four minutes later and the home side dominated the second half.

'Los Catrachos' grabbed the winner in the 78th minute when striker Jerry Bengtson took advantage of some woeful defending and slotted into an empty net.

With the fourth-placed finisher in the final phase of qualifying advancing to a two-legged playoff against the Oceania (OFC) champions for a finals berth, all six sides in the group will believe they have a chance of making it to Brazil.

Panama showed their ability as they took a 2-0 lead against Costa Rica when Luis Henriquez fired home from inside the area in the 16th minute and then Roman Torres doubled the advantage after trickery from Rolando Escobar.

However, Costa Rica fought back with goals from two familiar sources as Alvaro Saborio pulled one back five minutes before the interval and Fulham forward Bryan Ruiz equalized with a brilliant overhead kick six minutes from time.

Qualifying continues with two rounds of games next month, including the eagerly anticipated U.S. team's trip to Mexico City on March 26.

(Editing by John O'Brien)

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