DENVER - Rafael Marquez Lugo said it would be a disappointment if Mexico didn’t reach the CONCACAF Gold Cup final.
El Tri is a step closer to the July 28 title match by beating Martinique, 3-1, in the final Group A match at Sports Authority Field on Sunday in the second match of a doubleheader.
Marco Fabian, Luis Montes and second-half substitute Miguel Ponce found the net for Mexico.
Marquez Lugo and teammates clinched a slot in the quarterfinals in Atlanta after finishing in second place in the group with a 2-0-1 record (6 points). Panama (2-1-0) won the group with seven points, playing to a scoreless draw with last-place Canada (0-1-2, 1 pt.).
Martinique (1-0-2, 3 points) will wait to see if its three points are good enough to send it into the next round as one of two best third-place teams after Group B and Group C matches end on Tuesday.
Marquez Lugo did not score against Martinique, but he had a role in two of Mexico’s goals. His shot in the 21st minute ricocheted off Martinique goalkeeper Kevin Olimpa to Fabian. The Guadalajara striker poked at a blocked shot by Lugo, bouncing it high over Olimpa’s head for a 1-0 lead. Montes set up the scoring play with a sprint and pass into the penalty area. It was the third consecutive Gold Cup match in which Fabian scored.
Mexico added a second goal after Marquez Lugo set up Montes with a short pass. Montes took the pass and sent it bending off his right foot into the lower-right corner of the net. Montes fired from 25 meters as he moved from right to left. His shot curved just out of the reach of a diving Olimpa.
It was Montes’ first international goal in three appearances with El Tri. Montes is a 19-year-old from Club Leon and s regarded as an up-and-coming talent within Mexico’s LIGA MX.
Ponce came on in the 88th minute for Fabian and didn’t waste time getting a touch. He slipped in a Miguel Layun cross from right to left past Olimpia to close out the scoring. Like Montes, it was also Ponce’s first goal with the senior national team.
Mexico head coach Jose Manuel de la Torres’ Gold Cup squad is filled with young talent like Montes. Ponce is 24-years-old and also made his debut with the Mexicans during this tournament.
Errors, though, can be a consequence of youth and inexperience even among the extremely talented.
Martinique cut Mexico’s lead to 2-1 in the 43rd minute when Kevin Parsemain converted a penalty kick, burying it into the lower right corner of net, easily beating goalkeeper Moises Munoz. Layun took down Parsemain just inside the box.
The score appeared to motivate Martinique as it tried to pressure Mexico late in the second half, sending balls into the area and hoping its taller forwards could out jump Mexican defenders.
Mexico started the game on the attack, sending its forwards into the area, waiting for centered balls coming from the wings. Striker Raul Jimenez nearly got a foot on a deep pass from right to left at the mouth of the goal two minutes into the match. He hit the crossbar on a header seven minutes later.
Carlos Pena delivered a pass from near the left corner of the field into the six-yard box, where Fabian and Marquez Lugo couldn’t control the ball to set up a shot on goal.
Mexico looked for a fourth goal with a set of late charges playing from the left wing with Ponce leading the way until the final whistle.