HARTFORD, Conn. – Cuba had no problem disposing of Group C minnows Belize on Tuesday, but for more than 90 minutes, it appeared they would miss out on the quarterfinal stage on goal differential with nothing less than a four-goal margin good enough.
Then Jenier Márquez popped up in stoppage time to slip a low show past Belize goalkeeper Woodrow West and seal a 4-0 win at Rentschler Field that sparked jubilant on-field celebrations from the Cubans.
Ariel Martínez provided the class for the island nation, delivering left-footed finishes on either side of halftime before completing his hat trick late on, and Márquez delivered the late heroics to oust Martinique from the knockout stages as the Cubans fell even on goal differential (minus-2) but went through on goals scored.
Cuba dominated proceedings from the start, proving to be the more threatening side even if their finishing and decision making in the final third left a bit to be desired. For Belize, West made a number of impressive saves to keep it even until Martínez unleashed an unstoppable effort.
That came in the 38th minute after the midfielder collected the ball on the right flank, beat his man and made a beeline for the top of the box. With space seemingly running out, he found the angle to shoot at the far post and tucked a low shot into the bottom corner.
Martínez was at it again in the 63rd minute as he danced past his marker in the 18-yard box before unleashing another left-footed effort into the top corner.
What appeared to be the final blow came seven minutes from time. Exhausted and unable to hold possession, Belize weathered wave after wave from the Cuban attack before finally giving way. Again it was Martínez, this time unmarked in the center of the area where he calmly passed the ball past West to put his side within a goal of the quarterfinals.
Until the game’s final seconds, it looked like the all-important fourth goal simply wouldn’t come, with one tally called offside and numerous other chances spoiled by wayward finishing. However, Márquez found the time and space to beat West and send the Cubans onto a matchup with Panama in Atlanta on Saturday.