MEXICO CITY - Brad Guzan swatted away shot after shot, and the Americans hung on for a 0-0 draw with Mexico on Tuesday night, earning only their second point in a World Cup qualifier at Azteca Stadium.
The tie moved the U.S. into third place in World Cup qualifying for the North and Central American and Caribbean region after three of 10 matches, one point behind Panama and behind Costa Rica on goal difference.
The Americans and Costa Ricans both have four points, but the Ticos, who Tuesday lost their appeal over Friday's loss to the United States in a Colorado snow storm, are ahead on goal difference.
Mexico coach Manuel de la Torre is sure to come under fire after a third straight draw, which dropped El Tri to second-to-last place in the standings.
Mexico had plenty of chances, but El Tri was plagued by poor finishing and dismal execution on set pieces. Mexico had 15 corner kicks, including three in the last two minutes of stoppage time, and Guzan body-blocked a dangerous shot by Angel Reyna.
Azteca is one of the world's most imposing venues, and the Americans have a miserable track record there. They are 0-13-2 in World Cup qualifiers in Mexico, with their only other point - also from a 0-0 draw - coming in 1997.
But the Americans got a boost of confidence from their win in an exhibition last summer, and not even a patchwork - and inexperienced - lineup could shake them. Coach Jurgen Klinsmann gambled by starting Matt Besler at center back, only the second appearance for the Americans by the young defender. But he and Omar Gonzalez - the last two Major League Soccer defenders of the year - looked like grizzled veterans as they repeatedly snuffed out shots by Javier Hernandez, Javier Aquino and Jesus Zavala.
Mexico dominated possession, and Aquino, Hernandez and Zavala tested the inexperienced American defense, picking on DaMarcus Beasley in particular after he picked up a yellow card in the eighth minute. But Gonzalez came up with one big play after another, and Besler looked quite comfortable in the Azteca pressure-cooker.
But they got some help from El Tri, which blew numerous chances, including what should have been a couple of gimmes for Hernandez.
The Manchester United striker misplayed a bouncing corner kick in the 87th, getting only the back of his right foot on it. He pitched forward and into the net, but the ball popped skyward and over the goal. In the 28th minute, Jorge Torres Nilo sent a perfect cross in to Chicharito, who was right in front of the goal, just a few feet from Guzan. But Hernandez skied that one, too.
Guzan, who made his first start since 2010 on Friday, was superb. When Carlos Salcido lobbed a gorgeous chip shot to Zavala in the 43rd, Guzan ended the threat by coming out and slamming into Zavala. Not only did Guzan clear the ball, Zavala was called for a foul.
The Americans also got a bit lucky.
Mexico could have been awarded a penalty kick for a first-half foul by Michael Bradley on Chicharito. And El Tri probably should have been awarded one in the 76th when Maurice Edu took down Aquino from behind with a sliding tackle. The Mexico players were livid when no penalty was called, surrounding Guatemalan referee Walter Lopez. Lopez didn't back down, though replays showed Edu had clipped Aquino's foot.
The United States never really challenged Mexican goalkeeper Guilermo Ochoa, but the Americans were thrilled to leave Azteca with a rare point.
In other World Cup qualifiers, Pedro Rodriguez's goal lifted defending champion helped slumping Spain beat France 1-0 to seize control of its qualifying group.
Germany surged eight points ahead in Group C by beating Kazakhstan 4-1, while the Netherlands maintained its perfect run in qualifying with a 4-0 rout of Romania. Italy remained unbeaten, with Mario Balotelli's double giving the Italians a 2-0 victory in Malta and a three-point lead over Bulgaria in Group B.
But England stumbled again, drawing 1-1 at Group H leader Montenegro to remain two points back. And in Asia, Japan's hopes of becoming the first team other than host Brazil to qualify for the 2014 World Cup were thwarted when Amer Sabah stopped a late penalty attempt from Yasuhito Endo to protect Jordan's 2-1 victory.