2013 CONCACAF Gold Cup: Ranking the Teams in the Knockout Round
With the group stage of the 2013 CONCACAF Gold Cup complete, the remaining eight teams will compete in a single-elimination tournament to determine the champion.
Panama, Honduras and the United States earned first place in their respective groups, but are they the clear favorites going forward?
Is there a dark horse among second place finishers Mexico, Trinidad and Tobago and Costa Rica?
Will either third place team to qualify, El Salvador and Cuba, pull off an upset?
With the knockout stage set to begin July 20, let's look at which teams have the best chance at winning the Gold Cup.
That Cuba even made it to the knockout round is a shock considering their start.
After losing their first two group stage games to Costa Rica and the U.S., Cuba had a minus-six goal differential. They would need a win by at least four goals in their third game against Belize in order to qualify.
Ariel Martinez scored in the 31st minute, giving Cuba a 1-0 halftime lead. He even added to his tally, scoring a hat trick. However he did so in the 84th minute, leaving very little time for Cuba to get the necessary fourth goal.
They wouldn't be denied. In the second minute of stoppage time, Yenier Marquez scored the clinching goal.
So, Cuba has advanced. How much further can they expect to go? They've already shown in blowout losses that they can't handle the tournament's upper echelon teams. I'd be surprised to see them advance further.
7. El Salvador
El Salvador advanced to the knockout round by virtue of being the best third place team of the three. They managed four points despite having the lowest FIFA ranking in Group B heading into the tournament.
El Salvador seemed to have second place secured, but two second-half goals from Trinidad and Tobago against Honduras bumped them down a spot. Now their prospects look a little bit bleaker with a quarterfinal match against the United States looming.
Going forward, El Salvador will have to find more options up top to help out Rodolfo Zelaya, who has scored all three of the team's goals so far.
6. Trinidad and Tobago
As I mentioned earlier, Trinidad and Tobago's two goals bumped El Salvador down to third place. Those goals also moved themselves up from last place to second, avoiding elimination.
While Honduras had nothing to play for in that final group match, it was good sign for Trinidad and Tobago to beat the group winners.
They have also avoided drawing a group winner in their quarterfinal match. Instead, they will face a Mexican side that has been under turmoil as of late. A semifinal appearance is not completely out of the realm of possibility for Trinidad and Tobago.
Honduras rested several starters in that loss to Trinidad and Tobago, but it's not a good sign to see them stumble into the knockout phase of the tournament.
They gained the fewest points of the three group winners and now face a tough quarterfinal match against Costa Rica. The teams met on June 7 for a World Cup qualifier, which Costa Rica won 1-0.
Honduras must hope its rested players will return to the form they had in the first two matches, or they may be going home sooner rather than later.
4. Costa Rica
Costa Rica has suffered from some inconsistent play so far in the Gold Cup. A slow start against Cuba saw them go into halftime 0-0 before a strong second-half performance in which they scored three goals.
In its second match, Costa Rica needed an own goal to get by Belize.
And while they controlled Tuesday's match against the United States for stretches at a time and a had a few good scoring chances, the Americans still broke through in the 82nd minute to win 1-0.
What's impressed me the most about Costa Rica is that Brek Shea's goal for the United States is the only one they've allowed thus far. If they continue to keep the ball out of their own net, Costa Rica will be in a position to win.
I like their chances against Honduras. A win in the quarterfinal could set up a rematch with the United States. After Tuesday's loss and March's World Cup qualifying loss in the blizzard, they will certainly be hoping for another shot at the host country.
Mexico has had a rough 2013 campaign, winning just one match so far in World Cup qualifying and bowing out in the group stage of the 2013 FIFA Confederations Cup. A 2-1 loss to Panama in the opening match of the Gold Cup had many, like Bleacher Report's Joseph Zucker, calling for coach Chepo de la Torre to be fired.
Mexico followed that up with two wins against Canada and Martinique. Now, those games weren't played against elite competition, and Bleacher Report's Alex Hall warned that Mexico has little momentum going into its quarterfinal match.
Still there is reason to believe in this squad. Marco Fabian has led an improving attack, scoring three of Mexico's six goals. Defensively, they have allowed just one goal in the run of play (the other two came from penalty kicks).
According to Fox Sports' Kyle McCarthy, de la Torre feels his team is on the right track. After the team's 3-1 win over Martinique, the coach said, "I think the team is working hard to get there." Looking ahead to the knockout round, he added, "we'll have to work harder to get those results."
If de la Torre wants to keep his job, he better hope his team works harder. Winning the tournament may be the only way he'll feel more comfortable in his current hot seat.
The last time the Gold Cup final didn't feature the United States against Mexico was 2005, when the U.S. defeated Panama. Eight years later, it appears Panama has the best chance to prevent a fourth consecutive U.S. vs. Mexico final.
Panama showed resilience in its opening match against Mexico. After conceding an equalizer in first-half stoppage time, Panama responded with what would turn out to be the match-winning goal just three minutes into the second half.
On one hand, you can say they haven't looked back since, topping the group while going undefeated and having not allowed a goal since the first half against Mexico.
On the other hand, the Panamanians have left a little to be desired. They needed a penalty kick in the 85th minute to get by Martinique and played a dull scoreless draw against Canada.
Still, Panama showed what they are capable of against one of the competition's strongest opponents in Mexico. If they recapture that form, they can beat anyone.
1. United States
Before the Gold Cup began, Bleacher Report's Nathan McCarter explained why the United States were the tournament favorites.
They haven't disappointed.
The U.S. breezed through their first two games, defeating Belize 6-1 and Cuba 4-1. Tuesday's match against Costa Rica was more difficult, but they still came out victorious, becoming the only team in the tournament to win all three of its group matches.
While coach Jurgen Klinsmann has tinkered with the lineup each match, the driving forces behind the team have been Chris Wondolowski, who leads the tournament with five goals, and Landon Donovan, who has made a stellar return to the national team.
Whichever 11 guys end up on the pitch for their ensuing matches, the message will be the same: simply keep doing what you've been doing, and the cup will be yours.