The group stage of the Gold Cup wrapped up on Day Nine, with the final set of matches in Group C played in Charlotte, North Carolina.
The top two spots were all but determined – Guatemala would of had to win by a sizable margin and have Mexico lose to jump into second – but still, there was plenty to play for as Cuba met Guatemala and Mexico faced Trinidad and Tobago.
In the opening match between Cuba and Guatemala, both sides needed to win in order to keep their hopes alive.
As such, the first half was a closely-fought affair, each looking to score, but also keeping tight at the back so as not to concede. The match finally began to open up a little bit in the second frame.
It would take until the 72nd minute to break the deadlock, Cuba taking the lead through Maikel Reyes, directing an Alberto Gomez cross from the left on to the far-side of goal past Guatemalan keeper, Paulo Cesar Motta, at the near-post.
The play began when Ariel Martinez intercepted a ball in midfield, he would play cross-field to Gomez down the left, who picked out the movement of Reyes at the near-post with a wonderful cross.
It was a stunning turn of events, the short-handed Cubans, who had lost three players and an assistant coach to defection, were set to meet the USA, their old-ideological foes, in the quarterfinals should the result hold.
Los Chapines would not go down without a fight; they looked to pull on back back in the 79th minute, only for a foul called on Stefano Cincotta to rule out his strike having gotten on the end of a ball over the top. He was adjudged to have shoved a defender in order to collect the ball, negating his goal.
Los Liones del Caribe would hold on to that one-goal lead, seeing out the 1-0 victory, to move on to the next stage of the cup.
It should come as no surprise that CONCACAF can be crazy. Canada conceded one goal and lost once to be bounced out of the tournament, whereas Cuba conceded eight and lost twice, but they move on. Furthermore, consider that Cuba lost 6-0 to Mexico, who were held scoreless by Guatemala, who lost to those same Cubans; even the transit of properties be damned in this region.
The evening's second match, the final of the opening phase, was a spectacle to behold; CONCACAF saving the best for last, moving on to the knockout stage with some style.
The mighty Mexicans were expected to assert their dominance over the upstart islanders, Trinidad and Tobago, who had won both their matches, but had yet to face a real contender.
The Trinidadians would put a little scare into El Tri in the tenth minute, when an under-hit back-pass from Miguel Layun nearly allowed Kenwyne Jones to steal in on goal; Guillermo Ochoa was quick off his line to stifle the chance.
As expected, Mexico would take the lead in the 31st minute through Paul Aguilar, arriving at the back-post to get on the end of a ball from the left. A cross was sent in by Yasser Corona and flicked on by Carlos Vela, falling to Aguilar, who beat the keeper, Marvin Phillip, from a tight angle.
Mexico would double their lead in the 50th minute through Vela, making a blistering run up the left-channel after a poor Jones ball was intercepted in midfielder by Andres Guardado. He laid down the left for Vela, who cut inside on the covering defender, Yohance Marshall, before banking a right-footer in off the base of the left-post.
The Soca Warriors would not hang their heads, responding four minutes later through Keron Cummings, who found open space on the left as Jones sauntered powerfully up the middle, drawing attention away from his teammate. When Jones poked towards Cummings, he was ready to pounce, beating Ochoa with a left-footer to pull one back.
Vela nearly scored again two minutes on, sending a right-footer inches wide of the post; a miss that would prove costly in the 57th minute when Trinidad equalized through Jones, making amends for his earlier giveaway, by directing a right-footed touch on to the left-side of goal. Cummings played a ball down the right for Cordell Cato, who picked out the run of Jones with his cross.
Trinidad would sting the Mexicans again in the 66th minute, taking the lead from a throw-in to score a third-straight goal having trailed by a pair. Aubrey David threw to Jones on the right-side of the area, who knocked it down to Cummings, while holding off a defender. Cummings drilled a low left-footer across the keeper to the far-side netting – a cracking, thunderous strike.
But Mexico would not submit, Sheldon Bateau was forced into a desperate headed block in the 70th minute, while Jesus Corona sent his left-footer off the face of the bar when a cross from the right fell to him unmarked at the back.
The Mexicans would turn that pressure to goals, scoring twice in three minutes to retake the lead as full-time loomed: Guardado rocketed a bullet from the top of the box in the 87th minute, blowing his left-footer past the helpless Trinidadian keeper and a 90th minute own-goal off the outstretched boot of Jones would redirect a Hector Herrera cross from the left into his own net, appearing to doom the Trinidadians to defeat.
But the back-and-forth action was not over, yet.
On virtually the last kick of the game, the Caribbean side would take their revenge, scoring the eighth goal of the night to tie the match at fours.
Under a hail of debris, pilloried from the stands, Joevin Jones, the other Jones, assumed the responsibility of the 93rd minute corner kick with the clock ticking down. His out-swinging corner was met by Marshall with a firm header into the back of the Mexico net, ensuring Trinidad's strong group stage would earn them top spot.
Trinidad and Tobago take first spot, having amassed seven points and a plus-four through three matches, setting up a date against Panama in the quarterfinals. Mexico would be forced to settle for second with five points and a plus-six; they meet Costa Rica in the next round. And Cuba, tiny, mighty Cuba, will see how frosty recently-unfrozen relations can still be when it comes to a soccer match, as their third-place offering of three points and a minus-seven was good enough to bump Group B's El Salvador out of consideration, setting up a quarterfinal date with the Americans.
The tournament pauses for two days, as the remaining eight sides take a collective breath in preparation for the quarterfinal match-ups.
The four games will be spread over two days and two cities: the USA plays Cuba and Haiti meet Jamaica in Baltimore, Maryland on 18 July (Saturday); Trinidad and Tobago take on Panama and Mexico duel with Costa Rica, in what should be a fantastic match, on 19 July (Sunday) in East Rutherford, New Jersey.