GUATEMALA CITY (AP) -- Eddie Lewis left with a gash above his eye that needed five stitches. Tim Howard was livid after Carlos Ruiz kicked him in the head. Each team had an ejection. Players yelled at each other after the final whistle ended a match with 40 fouls.
Yet, what mattered most was the United States began the semifinal round of World Cup qualifying with a victory on the road.
"We knew it was going to be difficult. We stuck together. It was a great team effort," U.S. captain Carlos Bocanegra said after scoring on a header in the 69th minute to give the Americans a chippy 1-0 win over Guatemala on Wednesday night.
The match turned ugly in the 80th minute, when Ruiz fouled Howard. The goalkeeper and the forward yelled at each other.
"Carlos kicked me straight in my head," Howard said. "With Carlos you expect that. He is dirty. I wish I could say it otherwise, but he's played MLS for five years and I've seen him."
Ruiz, who did not speak with reporters after the match, apologized to Howard.
"That's what he does. I think you would rather have someone man up and say, 'Look, I don't like you. I am going to kick you. I'm going to do all that.' You can almost respect it in a funny way," Howard said. "He has this way about him. He kicks. He punches. ... And he wants to come and be your friend. There is no place for it."
As for the goal, Bocanegra was unmarked about three yards out when he scored off DaMarcus Beasley's corner kick for his 10th goal in 59 international appearances. Beasley had entered the match three minutes earlier when a bleeding Lewis came off on a stretcher after his head collided with the head and a forearm from Guatemala's Jose Manuel Contreras when both leaped for the ball.
"The doctor says it's in my browline so I'll be in good shape," Lewis said. "I don't remember the incident that well, but I remember him standing over me. ... It was a pretty good hit."
Favored to make their sixth straight World Cup appearance, the Americans had tied all four of their previous qualifiers at Guatemala, where they had been 1-4-4 overall -- their only win in a 1988 exhibition. They are 4-0 against Guatemala in qualifiers at home.
"It was a very hard fought game, and for us a hard earned three points," U.S. coach Bob Bradley said. "We have played some tough games in the last year, but none of them are qualifiers. To experience it and to win in that fashion is good for the group."
Bocanegra played a solid all-around game, disrupting Ruiz and Carlos Manuel Contreras from getting the crossing passes that could have led to dangerous chances. Howard made seven saves on a busy night, with 100th-ranked Guatemala outshooting the 31st-ranked Americans 16-9 before a capacity crowd of about 25,000 at Estadio Mateo Flores.
The U.S. team played a man short after defender Steve Cherundolo was ejected in the 60th minute for tripping up Freddy Garcia and receiving his second yellow card. Cherundolo will miss the Sept. 6 qualifier at Cuba.
Howard, and midfielders Pablo Mastroeni and Clint Dempsey also were given yellow cards, meaning they would be suspended if they get another yellow card in qualifying.
Guatemala coach Ramon Maradiaga was angry at referee Enrico Wijngaarde of Suriname, whose foul call when Ruiz kicked Howard nullified Guillermo Rodriguez putting the ball in the net.
"They annulled a goal that was ours, and that happens because they name referees that lack the preparation to direct a game of this level. But that is what FIFA does. Their decisions are unappealable," said Maradiaga, whose team was whistled for 23 fouls. "The referee today expelled Gustavo Cabrera as a way to level the game after expelling Cherundolo."
Notes: Trinidad and Tobago won 3-1 at Cuba in the group's other match. The top two teams advance to next year's regional finals in the North and Central American and Caribbean region. ... Michael Bradley and Maurice Edu played for the United States after returning from Beijing, where they were on the American team that was eliminated in the first round of the Olympics, which is mostly limited to players under 23.