Mexico jumped out early to top Martinique 3-1 in the final match of Group A in the CONCACAF Gold Cup. The win secures their place in the knockout stage and keeps the hopes of defending their title alive.
Fox Sports summed up the victory for El Tri:
FT: Mexico 3, Martinique 1. El Tri advances to the quarterfinals; Martinique still in mix for a spot reserved for two best 3rd place teams.— FOX Soccer (@FOXSoccer) July 14, 2013
Mexico got on the board first in the 20th minute after many near-misses early on. Marco Fabian struck a rebound opportunity that hit the ground more than 10 yards away from the net and bounced high over a slew of defenders—and Martinique goalkeeper Kevin Olimpa—into the goal.
Rafael Marquez Lugo wasted the open chance, but fortunately for El Tri, Fabian was there as he has been all tournament to clean it up for his third goal in as many matches.
Fox Sports posted a highlight of the opening goal on Twitter:
GOAL Mexico! Marco Fabian gives his side a 1-0 lead over Martinique. Watch it: - http://t.co/7XZ8Bz0W6K— FOX Soccer (@FOXSoccer) July 14, 2013
The Mexicans found some breathing room in the 34th minute when Luis Montes connected on the highlight of the match to put El Tri up 2-0.
His strike from 30-plus yards was one of the best goals of the tournament, via Fox Sports:
Mexico were poised for a blowout win at that point, right? Martinique had played a dangerous style through their first two matches against Panama and Canada—in which they only allowed one goal. But they looked overwhelmed and out of position early on against Mexico.
That is, until right before the first half.
A foul in the box from Mexico's Miguel Layun forced a penalty shot, which Kevin Parsemain put away to cut the deficit to 2-1 (per Fox Sports).
GOAL Martinique! Parsemain pulls one back for his side to make it 2-1. Watch his penalty kick: http://t.co/BDaEMKU4Ho— FOX Soccer (@FOXSoccer) July 14, 2013
Martinique couldn't finish off a bundle of chances late in the first half, but the penalty kick still gave them plenty of momentum heading into the halftime break.
Mexico gave up a handful of scoring chances to Martinique in the second half as the underdogs wouldn't go away, but El Tri kept their opponents at bay. As the second half wore on, Mexico shored up their defensive issues, and despite not pulling away, they looked dominant to end the match.
However, it was a one-goal game until the 90th minute, when a cross found the boot of Miguel Ponce—who was substituted in during the 87th minute—for his first career international goal (per Fox Sports).
GOAL Mexico! Ponce scores his first international goal to give his side a 3-1 lead over Martinique. Watch it: http://t.co/TqdvIoOSGo— FOX Soccer (@FOXSoccer) July 14, 2013
The Mexicans looked far from dominant and showcased their fair share of issues, but it was a much more promising outcome for El Tri on Sunday against a pesky and underrated squad. They showed composure and saved their best for last, giving themselves a lot of hope heading into the knockout stage.
Marco Fabian, Mexico: A-
The 23-year-old has emerged as one of Mexico's best youngsters, but he played well beyond his years in Sunday's win.
His goal put Mexico up for good and was the product of an intelligent play and putting the right type of shot on. There was plenty of traffic in between himself and the goal, and it took a brilliantly-placed shot to have any chance at one trickling in.
Fabian has really made a claim for one of the spots in next year's World Cup—assuming they qualify—and he'll look to build on that now that Mexico is moving on.
Luis Montes, Mexico: A-
Despite being 27 years old, Sunday's goal was the first for Montes as a member of the national team.
It couldn't have come in better fashion. Stepping into a small amount of space in the 34th minute, he fired a twisting kick that nailed the back of the net.
Montes is a newcomer to Mexico's first team and it's important not to look too much into one play, but he's forced the hand of coach Jose Manuel de la Torres with his big shot on Sunday.
Kevin Parsemain, Martinique: B+
Martinique can take plenty away from their experiences so far in the Gold Cup, and one of the bright spots among that is the play of Kevin Parsemain.
The 25-year-old has the perfect blend of experience and youthfulness, and that has made him a mainstay in Martinique's first-team attack.
After Parsemain's first-half penalty goal, Martinique had the shot in the arm they needed to mount a run against the defending Gold Cup champions. It nearly turned into an equalizer multiple times, but you can't hold that against Parsemain.
Kevin Olimpa, Martinique: B-
Mexico's first goal was a try that should've easily been corralled by the goalkeeper, but amid a chaotic scoring chance, he fell out of position and was nowhere to be found when the ball bounced into the net for El Tri's 1-0 lead.
Goal No. 2 was a bit tougher, but considering there were at least 30 yards between him and Montes, he should have had a better shot at saving it than he did.
Martinique were nearly impossible to score on in their first two matches, but that wasn't the case on Sunday. However, he still was able to make some solid saves to keep things from getting ugly, and he kept his team in the match.
Mexico Player Grades
|Juan Carlos Valenzuela||B-|
|Rafael Marquez Lugo||B|
|Efrain Velarde (sub.)||B-|
|Miguel Ponce (sub.)||A-|
|Javier Orozco (sub.)||B|
Martinique Player Grades
|Stephane Abaul (sub.)||B-|
|Kevin Tresfeld (sub.)||C+|
|Sebastien Cretinoir (sub.)||B|
Mexico bounced back from an opening loss to Panama to pick up six points in Group A, and that will push them into the knockout stage. They'll finish second in the group behind Panama, who notched seven points.
Meanwhile, Martinique lost their last two matches after a 1-0 thriller over Canada in their opener.
Finishing in third place of Group A, Martinique will have to hope that one win is enough to get them through over one of the other two third-place teams. The two third-place teams among Groups A, B and C with the most points will move on to the quarterfinals.
With just a minus-two goal differential and one win, Martinique have a good resume to advance. But we won't know until Tuesday, when the group stage action concludes.