The 2015 CONCACAF Gold Cup group stage concluded Wednesday night with the final two matches in Group C.
As the saying goes, the best was saved for last.
In the second match of the night at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, North Carolina, Trinidad and Tobago and Mexico played to a wild 4-4 draw that saw the lead change hands multiple times in the second half. Earlier in the night, Cuba secured a spot in the quarterfinals with a 1-0 victory over Guatemala.
Here are the key takeaways from Day 9 at the Gold Cup.
Soca Warriors top group after wild draw
Trinidad and Tobago clinched first place in Group C with a 4-4 draw against Mexico, a wild match that was without doubt the best and most entertaining game of the tournament.
Mexico led 2-0 early in the second half following goals from Paul Aguilar and Carlos Vela, but the Soca Warriors stormed into the lead by scoring the next three. Keron Cummings and Kenwyne Jones found the back of the net within three minutes of each other before Cummings rifled in his second in the 67th minute.
Trailing 3-2, Mexico drew level on Andres Guardado's blast from the edge of the box in the 88th minute and took the lead via Jones' own goal two minutes later. But the game wasn't over yet. In the third and final minute of stoppage time, Yohance Marshall headed in a corner to salvage a point for Trinidad and Tobago.
And with the draw, the Soca Warriors clinched first place in the group ahead of Mexico. That means Trinidad and Tobago will now face Panama in the quarterfinals on Sunday in East Rutherford, New Jersey. Mexico will have to play Costa Rica, one of the pre-tournament favorites, the same day.
Lost in all the excitement of Wednesday's wild match was the fact that Trinidad and Tobago fully deserved the draw. After falling behind by two goals early in the second half, Stephen Hart's team showed admirable tenacity to claw back into the game. At their best in the attacking third, the Soca Warriors were simply too much for Mexico to handle. They will be a dangerous team in the knockout stages.
Mexico, meanwhile, will have plenty of concerns following a disappointing performance in the group stage. El Tri seemed to be on track after routing Cuba 6-0 in the opener, but doubts started to emerge in the scoreless draw against Guatemala. Those doubts turned into red flags against Trinidad and Tobago as the Caribbean side wreaked havoc on Mexico's defense.
El Tri manager Miguel Herrera lamented his side's failure to seize control Wednesday, per ESPN Tri:
Before Wednesday, Herrera's side had not been tested defensively. This initial examination—in which Mexico used Herrera's preferred formation—resulted in a failing grade. After switching back to the 5-3-2, with Maza Rodriguez, Diego Reyes and Yasser Corona as the center backs, El Tri's defense struggled against Jones' powerful presence inside the box and Cummings' fantastic finishing.
Maybe Mexico just happened to catch Trinidad and Tobago on the wrong night, a night when everything went right offensively for the Soca Warriors, who didn't even attack much before the second half. But that's probably too generous. Another performance like this from Mexico will see El Tri depart the tournament at the quarterfinal stage.
And if that happens, it's hard to imagine Herrera keeping his job.
Cuba book unlikely quarterfinal place
Through two games at the Gold Cup, Cuba had lost twice while being outscored 8-0 by Mexico and Trinidad and Tobago. But after a 1-0 victory over Guatemala on Wednesday, the Leones are heading for the quarterfinals after finishing third in Group C.
To reach this point, Cuba had to overcome considerable adversity. Four players have defected during the tournament, and several other players missed the opener against Mexico because of problems with travel documents. But after all that—and after two dispiriting losses in its first two games—Cuba still found a way to win.
Maikel Reyes scored the winner with a 73rd-minute header, and in stoppage time, goalkeeper Diosvelis Guerra made a crucial save on a Marco Pappa shot to preserve the win. Cuba's three points were enough to qualify as the second-best third-placed team, despite a goal differential of minus-seven.
In the quarters, Cuba will once again face long odds. According to ESPN's Paul Carr, the Leones have lost their last eight matches against the United States by a combined score of 29-5.
Quarterfinal matchups set
With the group stage complete, the quarterfinal matches are set. The U.S., which won Group A, will play Cuba on Saturday in Baltimore. Group B winners Jamaica will play Haiti at the same venue later that day.
Group C winners Trinidad and Tobago will play Panama the next day in East Rutherford, New Jersey. Mexico and Costa Rica, both second-place finishers, will face off in the last quarterfinal, also on Sunday in East Rutherford.