The Gold Cup hasn't gone as planned for Mexico, but they are through to the knockout stages after a 3-1 win over Martinique on Sunday. Mexico still have their fair share of problems, many of which were on display in Denver, but El Tri put together their best match of the tournament and have the chance to further improve in the quarterfinals.
Panama won Group A thanks to their draw earlier in the day, which put them on seven points, while Mexico finished in second place with six points. Martinique are not yet through to the quarterfinals, but the top two third place teams advance and with three points and a -2 goal difference they look like a good bet to get one of those places.
Mexico started well and the first 40 minutes was their best stretch of play in the tournament. Marco Fabian put them in front after 21 minutes when he half-volleyed from 15 yards and mis-hit the ball off the ground, over the goalkeeper and under the bar for the opener. It wasn't pretty, but Luis Montes made up for any aesthetics Fabian's goal lacked when he hit a rocket from 25 yards to double Mexico's lead in the 34th minute.
At that point, Martinique had to consider themselves lucky to only be 2-0 down. Raul Jimenez hit the post once and Mexico could have had a few goals were it not for some misfortune and scrambling Martinique clearances in front of goal.
It looked like Mexico had finally found their form, but as has been their wont in 2013, they managed to lose a hold of a match it looked like they had by a death grip.
Mexico's defense, which was shaky and masked by El Tri's dangerous attack at the start of the match, finally gave way just before halftime. Miguel Layun ran through the back of Steve Gustan, giving Martinique a penalty that Kevin Parsemain cooly finished to bring the underdogs within one.
The second half saw Mexico still generate the bulk of the chances, but that was because their attack proved troubling for Martinique, not because their defense got any better. Juan Valenzuela had several bad plays at the back and Joe Huiqui wasn't much better. As dangerous as Layun was going forward, he was equally bad in defense and a match that it felt like Mexico should have in the bag was always in doubt because of that El Tri back line.
After a frustrating half for Mexico, Miguel Ponce finally put the match to bed in the 90th minute. Layun hit a wonderful low cross that Jimenez dummied at the near post, allowing it to run for Ponce at the back post, where he was able to tap it into the wide open net for his first international goal.
Ponce's goal provided the cap to a necessary, if uneven and concerning, win. The attack found its legs -- going forward with pace, creativity and conviction after two matches filled with slow play, predictability and hesitancy -- but the defense is still a mess.
With the knockout stages looming, they no longer have any margin for error, but for the first time all tournament the embattled Jose Manuel "Chepo" de la Torre can smile -- his team is finally trending upward.