The 2013 CONCACAF Gold Cup will come down to one final matchup on Sunday in Chicago. The championship tilt will pit the four-time Gold Cup champion United States up against Panama, which has never won, but came close in 2005.
Neither side has dropped a single match en route to the tournament final, with the U.S. and Panama ranking No. 1 and No. 2 respectively in both goals scored and goal differential. Therefore, something will have to give in Sunday's high-stakes matchup.
With the 2013 Gold Cup set to conclude this weekend, let's take a look back on how we got to this point.
Two Nations Go Unbeaten Through Group Stage
Only two teams managed to avoid a loss in the group stage at the 2013 Gold Cup this summer. Oddly enough, both of those teams will be playing for the title on Sunday.
Panama knocked off two-time defending champion Mexico in the Group A opener and then went on to defeat Martinique before drawing with Canada in the group finale.
In Group C, the United States outscored its three opponents 11-2, winning all three matches to take the group and advance to the quarterfinals. The U.S.'s plus-nine goal differential was by far the best of any squad, seven goals better than Panama's.
Heading into Sunday's final, the U.S. and Panama are plus-15 and plus-eight respectively, taking into account the knockout stage.
Group Winners Set the Tone in Quarters
While Mexico and Honduras did just enough to hold on and advance with 1-0 victories in the quarterfinals last weekend, both the United States and Panama set themselves apart with dominant blowout wins over El Salvador and Cuba respectively.
Panama conceded the first goal of the match to Cuba before scoring six straight in a one-hour span to bury its opponent.
Meanwhile, Jurgen Klinsmann saw five different American players score in his squad's destruction of El Salvador. The Central Americans' only goal would come via a penalty shortly before halftime.
With Mexico requiring an 84th-minute goal from Raul Jimenez just to survive Trinidad and Tobago in the quarters, the doubt surrounding El Tri began to grow heading into the semifinals.
Honduras would overcome Costa Rica thanks to Andy Najar's lone 49th-minute strike.
USA, Panama Score First and Last to Earn Berth in Final
The momentum the United States and Panama each built with their impressive quarterfinal performances carried right into Wednesday semifinals in Arlington, Texas.
Which will be the last nation standing on Sunday?
The Americans would get an early goal from Eddie Johnson to take a quick lead over Honduras. After the two sides traded goals, Landon Donovan would score the last of the match to secure a 3-1 lead for the Stars and Stripes.
Panama found itself in a very similar situation in the second semifinal. Just minutes after Blas Perez put the Central Americans ahead of Mexico, El Tri equalized to even things up before halftime. But 15 minutes into the second half, Roman Torres would score the match-winning goal, sending Panama into the Gold Cup final for the first time since 2005 with a 2-1 win, per ESPN Stats & Info:
Mexico has failed to reach the Gold Cup Final for 1st time since 2005, when the Final was also USA vs Panama.— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) July 25, 2013
That brings us to Sunday's showdown. It's a rematch of 2005's memorable final, which required penalties as the Americans went on to win their first of back-to-back Gold Cup crowns.
Both sides are formidable and in exceptional form. But history tells us that this tournament typically comes down to the United States and Mexico, and only one of those powerhouses is still alive.
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