Trinidad and Tobago earn dramatic draw vs. Mexico to claim Group C

CHARLOTTE, N.C. —

If any match deserved one last twist, it was this one. Trindad & Tobago and Mexico spent the second half slicing each other open in a back-and-forth affair open beyond any reasonable comprehension. The exchanges yielded six goals and placed Mexico in a position to go through as Group C winners until the sensational last moment.

T&T saved the most dramatic moment of the best game of this Gold Cup group stage for last. Yohance Marshall headed home Joevin Jones’ corner kick in the dying embers of the game to notch the seventh goal after halftime, secure a 4-4 draw and send T&T through in top spot.

"For us, it’s an amazing achievement," T&T captain Kenwyne Jones said after the match. "It’s the first time we’re topping the group. It’s the first time for us coming back from 2-0 down against Mexico. There were a whole lot of firsts tonight. I can’t reel all of them off, but it’s wonderful.”

There were few signs of the tumult to come as Mexico bossed the game in possession in first half and took the lead through Paul Aguilar after 32 minutes. Carlos Vela doubled the advantage six minutes after the interval with a fine solo goal, but the Mexican second prompted a furious response from T&T.

Kenwyne Jones inspired the response as he drove forward to play Keron Cummings through for the first goal and flicked home the second at the near post moments later. Cummings rasped home the third after 67 minutes to give T&T a 3-2 lead.

Mexico produced a stunning late response to somehow reclaim the lead. Andres Guardado lashed home from the top of the penalty area before the T&T captain cruelly turned into his own net to send the Mexicans in front.

T&T made one last push and reaped the dividends when Marshall climbed highest to nod home Joevin Jones’ corner. The late riposte guaranteed T&T’s place atop Group C and a date with Panama in Baltimore on Sunday, while second-place Mexico plunged into a tricky quarterfinal against Costa Rica on the same day.

It proved a considerable punishment for a Mexico side that failed to take care of its assigned business. There were chances for El Tri to sort out this group in both of the final two matches, but its inability to carve open a dogged defense in the 0-0 draw with Guatemala and its shaky defense in this affair consigned it to the most difficult possible route to the final.

Mexico coach Miguel Herrera changed course at the outset in a bid to avoid that fate and reverted to his preferred 5-3-2 formation. The alterations forced the introduction of debutant Yasser Corona in central defense and tucked Héctor Herrera into the midfield three with José Juan Vazquez dropping out of the side. Giovani dos Santos also replaced Oribe Peralta as expected after Peralta’s wastefulness in the 0-0 draw with Guatemala.

T&T pulled a page out of the well-worn template and set out its stall in the opening stages. The inclusion of captain Jones — selected despite his precarious perch on yellow card warning — up front offered a potential safety valve when playing directly out of the back, but T&T primarily focused on ceding possession, remaining compact and soaking up pressure in the early stages.

Mexico once again dominated in possession without producing many chances from the run of play. The shape itself looked better with wingbacks Aguilar and Miguel Layún occupying advanced positions nearly the touchline, but the tempo in possession did not prove high enough to carve open the compact T&T shape — squeezed tightly both horizontally and vertically — for most of the first half.

Diagonal service always loomed as a profitable avenue of exploration for Mexico with the return of the wingbacks. The occasional decision to switch directly from flank to flank exploited the narrow nature of the T&T shape. The line of inquiry eventually paid off with the opening goal after 32 minutes.

Corona collected on the left side of the field and found himself in space with Layun pushing high near the touchline. The Queretaro centerback opted to serve a firmly struck ball toward the center of the penalty area. Vela flicked the service toward the far post with the back of his neck. Aguilar timed his run to perfection and tucked home to settle the Mexican nerves.

A crunching tackle forced Herrera to replace Giovani with Peralta at the start of the second half, but it did little the stem the tide. Mexico found a second goal six minutes after the break to consolidate the first-half advantage.

The entire move proceeded quickly once the ball turned over in midfield. Vela latched onto the ball over the top and then weaved his magic from there. His deft cut inside froze the defender and permitted him to dink off the near post to double the advantage.

Any notions of a breezy Mexican march to the point dissipated in the wake of the goal. Mexico allowed the standards to slip in the wake of the second and then sat stunned as T&T restored parity with two goals in four minutes.

Kenwyne Jones proved the chief architect of the stunning reversal. His determined, incisive run after winning possession in the middle third left the Mexican defense flatfooted. The back three retreated until Jones located Cummings in space on the left side of the penalty area. Cummings made no mistake to throw his side a lifeline and unsettled the heretofore unruffled Mexicans.

T&T erased the deficit completely after 58 minutes with another sweeping move. Acres of space opened up as T&T moved forward and then swung the ball out to Cordell Cato on the right. Cato delivered an inch-perfect ball toward the near post for Jones to thump home first time to stun the expectant crowd at Bank of America Stadium.

By this time, Mexico found itself completely adrift with the three-man rearguard placed under considerable fire. The inability to locate possession once more left the Mexicans exposed on the break and paved the way for T&T to secure the killer third from a throw-in inside the final half-hour.

Kenwyne Jones made the most of a throw-in by simply blocking out space and creating enough room to chest Aubrey David’s service from the right. Cummings anticipated the play and moved himself into position to benefit from Jones’ diligent hold-up work. The resulting thunderbolt struck Mexico deeply and thrust Trinidad into the lead.

T&T ran rampant in the following minutes as Mexico struggled to comprehend how the night veered so dramatically off-course. Kenwyne Jones barged through two Mexican defenders and somehow managed to ping the post after 79 minutes as T&T looked more likely to score the next goal.

Mexico finally roused to life and summoned the energy to muster an improbable fightback. Guardado once again led the charge with his industry and his quality. His rasping drive restored parity two minutes from time to set the stage for a grandstand finish as the Mexicans pressed for the goal they needed.

It arrived in the cruelest of fashion for T&T and its captain. Jones dropped straight into central defense to help batten down the hatches, but he could do little to cope with the whipped in ball from the left. He stuck out his leg and watched in horror as the ball diverted into his own net to seemingly send the Mexicans through as group winners.

Incredibly, there was still one twist remaining in this incredible second half. T&T pushed forward in a bid to equalizer and won a corner deep in second-half stoppage time. Joevin Jones curled a wonderful ball in from the left. Marshall met it at the perfect time and twisted his header inside the far post. He swiftly received a thunderous hug from his captain as T&T reveled in its deserved point and guaranteed its perch atop Group C at the last possible instant.