Hello and welcome to live coverage of tonight's CONCACAF Gold Cup Group C encounter between Cuba and Guatemala here on Sports Mole.
This is the first of two contests that will conclude the group stage tonight, with the games playing one after the other at the home stadium of NFL franchise, the Carolina Panthers. Mexico face the Trinidad & Tobago at Bank of America Stadium later, but first these two sides both have their sights on qualifying for the quarter finals.
I'll explain the qualification picture shortly, but first we'll start with some team news. The lineups are out, so here they are.
Cuba: Guerra; Corrales, Napoles, Vaquero, Marquez, Diz Pe; Clavelo, Gomez, Luis; Martinez, Reyes.
Guatemala: Motta; Lopez, Lalin, Vasquez, Morales; Mejia, Pappa, de Leon, Aparicio; Ruiz, Lopez.
So both teams making changes then, although Guatemala's is enforced. Midfielder José Manuel Contreras picked up two yellow cards in four minutes against Mexico the other night, meaning that Marco Pappa comes into Ivan Franco Sopegno's lineup.
Raúl González Triana's Cuba, Alain Cervantes misses out tonight, with defender Jorge Corrales coming into the side. It's a strange move from what I can work out, as it means that with the personnel on show, they'll be lining up in a 5-3-2 formation, using wing backs. Not the tactics I'd pick if I needed to win a crucial group game, but then I'm not an international manager... Yet.
Speaking of crucial, and as I stated earlier, tonight's game is an important one for both sides, in terms of their progression to the quarter finals of the tournament. With Group's A and B already complete, the picture going forward is extremely clear for both teams.
Despite losing their first two matches by an aggregate score of 0-8, Cuba can still advance with three points tonight. A draw is not good enough, but should they win, they'd leapfrog Guatemala themselves, and in turn knock out El Salvador, who lost 1-0 to Jamaica last night to put their future in the competition in doubt.
Guatemala have a single point from their first two fixtures, so they occupy third spot at present. Of the teams placed third at present, they rank the worst, but their destiny is in their hands. Like Cuba, a point is not good enough, due to their insufficient goal difference compared to El Salvador.
Basically, both teams need to win. Should this game end in a stalemate, both sides would go out, allowing the upcoming Mexico versus Trinidad clash to simply be a shootout for first and second spot in the group.
The fact that both sides need the three points should make for a good game of football, and it will be interesting to see who takes the initiative. Based purely on their performances in this competition so far, I think Guatemala - who held Mexico to a 0-0 draw on Sunday - are more likely to run out winners.
The names on show tonight are hardly what you'd call 'household'. In fact, every single member of the Cuban squad plies his trade in their home nation - and I must admit the Campeonato Nacional de Fútbol de Cuba is not a league I'm hugely clued up on!
36 year old Yénier Márquez is a key man for Cuba. He has 125 caps and 15 international goals to his name. In all likelihood, this will be his last big tournament for his country, meaning an exit from the competition might see this be his final game.
Guatemala's squad is a little more travelled than Cuba's, in that not all members play in their home league. The likes of Moises Hernandez, Elías Vásquez and the aforementioned Pappa for example are all MLS players.
Ok, anthems and handshakes are done. Cuba are all in red, while the Guatemalans wear white with a blue diagonal stripe across their chests. Here we go...
KICK OFF! Guatemala get us underway, although I have to say the stadium is not brilliantly populated with fans as yet!
Cuba win an early corner. There is some hustle and bustle in the box which the ref takes charge of, though Martinez's delivery is not one to trouble Guatemala.
CHANCE: Guatemala nearly made a perfect start then, breaking away to create an opportunity courtesy of Mejia. The midfielder hesitated at the crucial moment though, failing to either shoot or pick out a frustrated Ruiz at the back post.
Good start this from the Guatemalans. Lopez wins a header in the box which Guerra instinctively tips over the bar. I wouldn't call it a proper chance, but it certainly needed to be dealt with by the keeper.
Bit of a slow start to this one tonight, though La Azul y Blanco (literally, the blue and white) look the more likely to take the initiative.
Just as I say that, Motta has to emerge from his goal to make sure that Gomez doesn't get in on goal for Cuba. In truth, the striker always looked second best to reach the ball there.
Martinez is upended just outside the box. He picks himself up and will deliver the set piece into the area...
SAVE: Personally I thought the position of the kick favoured a cross, but Martinez decides to shoot and hits a dipping effort towards Motta's goal. The keeper comfortably tips it over the top for a third Cuban corner.
Incidentally, Cuba's nickname is a much more adventurous Leones del Caribe, which translates as the 'Lions of the Caribbean'. Unfortunately, their performances in the tournament so far suggest they're quite a tame bunch of said animal.
SHOT: Smart stuff from Guatemala, with Pappa and Ruiz linking to carve out an opportunity for Mejia. His strike is low and hard, but Guerra is equal to it.
YELLOW CARD: It's a first caution of the game for Napoles, but I think he's a tad unfortunate. The defender tackles Pappa, and admittedly he's a fraction late. However, Pappa continues for two or three seconds, decides actually that he was hurt by the touch and he flops to the floor. One of the longest delayed reactions to a foul you will see.
Really positive from Reyes down the Cuban right. He tries some tricks and a couple of stepovers before squaring the ball into the box - unfortunately nobody has kept up with him.
Good, lung-bursting run from Martinez. He finds Corrales down the left, but the full-back's cross-come-shot lacks anything like the power required to trouble Motta.
SHOT: Down the other end now, and things open up for Pappa, who is encouraged to shoot by the growing crowd. He duly obliges, firing a shot into the seemingly safe arms of Guerra.
Mejia picks up the ball outside of the area and drives forward. He's touched faintly in the box, feeling the slightest of contact before taking a tumble. Luis did touch him, but nowhere near enough for him to go to ground like that. The ref waves away the appeal, and Mejia is lucky not to be in the book for simulation.
The crowd - who are favouring La Azul y Blanco - are booing now, clearly upset that a penalty was not awarded just now.
Seattle Sounders' Pappa looks a class apart from everyone else at the moment, and the midfielder pings a 50-yard ball up towards his captain Ruiz. The striker beats the offside trap but just can't get the ball under control. Even so, that's the pass of the game so far.
Marquez nudges Lopez in the back and it's enough for the ref to award the Guatemalans a free kick 25 yards out. Ruiz's shot is disappointing however, slamming into a wall which seemed to be getting closer before the whistle went!
There's a few strong tackles going in now, but from both sides the challenges seem very fair. Certainly, there isn't a nastiness to this game that I felt was present last night between Jamaica and El Salvador.
Really teasing ball into the box by Morales, searching for Lopez at the back stick. It bends towards the goal and Guerra comes for it. In truth, he's nowhere near it; luckily the same can be said for the onrushing Guatemalan.
CLOSE: Motta is concerned by Martinez's latest set piece. This one is a little more central than the last, so the midfielder's choice to shoot is more obvious this time. He fires a curled effort goal bound, though it flies just wide.
Morales should be booked, catching Martinez late. Somehow, he escapes a booking - though I'm not sure how because he clearly goes through the back of the imposing Cuban midfielder.
The game is a little bit stop-start at present, with very few goalscoring opportunities being created. I shouldn't be surprised - these two sides have one goal to their names combined in this tournament so far. It's nothing like watching Brazil, as you can probably imagine.
CHANCE: Oh, Reyes - what a chance for Cuba! The winger latches onto a through ball brilliantly, heading it down into his own path for him to run on to. He gets into the box, into a position where he could easily shoot before inexplicably deciding he's better off pulling the ball back for a teammate. There's nobody there and the chance is gone. Big opportunity for Reyes there.
SHOT: Aparicio takes a couple of nice touches before reaching the 18-yard box and firing just over the top with his left peg.
SHOT: He's at it again just a minute later, and this one is much closer. This time, with lots of time and space, he shapes and bends the ball with his right foot. Guerra scrambles, happy to see the effort clear the crossbar.
YELLOW CARD: Real Salt Lake defender Vasquez goes into the book for a pretty cynical challenge. Cuba will get the chance to fire one more ball into the box before half time.
HALF TIME: CUBA 0-0 GUATEMALA
Hmmm, that wasn't great! For two teams that absolutely have to win, neither look too fussed about finding a way to do so. It's not making for very good viewing, and if ever the cliche 'this game needs a goal' was to be used, this match would be perfect for it.
Since I labelled Pappa as the best player on the pitch, he's totally disappeared, although two late strikes from Aparicio will give the Guatemalan side the encouragement that chances can be created.
For Cuba, Reyes' run into the box was their best moment, and he really should have been more selfish and taken a shot at Motta's goal. The first, headed touch was excellent, reminiscent of an FA Cup final goal scored by Arsenal's Nicolas Anelka a long, long time back. The winger clearly has pace too, so it was a shame to see him not follow up one piece of excellent play with another.
Hopefully, both (or even just one!) of the sides shows some more ambition after the break. If they don't, they're all going home. It really is as simple as that.
I've just seen another replay of that Mejia penalty appeal and for me, the ref got this one spot on. Luis touches him ever so slightly with his knee, but nowhere near enough for him to go down like he did. Mejia was certainly looking for it, a truth that is obvious by the look on his face when he glances in the referee's direction.
RESTART: We're back underway here in North Carolina. It's now or never for the teams...
Guatemala look to attack down the right, attempting cute touches in a very tight space. Cuba hoof clear at the first opportunity.
CHANCE: Massive chance for Guatemala captain Ruiz. Mejia bursts down the left, beats two men and bounces a cross towards the forward. He meets it on the half-volley, hitting a left-footed shot just wide of Guerra's upright. The keeper was stranded there.
SUBSTITUTION FOR GUATEMALA: Incidentally, Carlos Figueroa came on in place of Wilson Lalin at half time. It's a positive change, and Figueroa has seen a lot of the ball down the right already this half.
CHANCE: Cuba go close this time, and it's their best player Martinez that has an opportunity to open the scoring now. They move the ball down the right, resulting in Lopez crossing for the midfielder. He meets it perfectly with his head, but the effort drops just wide.
Things are really opening up now and both sides are appearing as if they are going to show some more ambition.
SHOT: Substitute Figueroa is involved again, and this time it's his shot that stings Guerra's palms.
Pappa gives the ball away cheaply to Reyes. Cuba begin a breakaway, but they're soon thwarted by a poor touch from the pacey wide man.
All of a sudden, this game is end-to-end. It seems to have dawned on both sides that winning is vital tonight!
Ruiz bends his run brilliantly to stay onside, allowing him the chance to feed Lopez. The striker pulls it back; Pappa promptly drags a shot well wide.
SUBSTITUTION FOR GUATEMALA: de Leon departs, with Stefano Cincotta coming on in his place.
SUBSTITUTION FOR CUBA: At the same time, the Cubans make their first change. Corrales is subbed, Alain Cervantes is his replacement.
YELLOW CARD: Morales - a player who could've been book twice in the opening period - finally gets a deserved booking for a blatant foul on Martinez.
CHANCE: From the resulting free kick, Martinez delivers an excellent ball to the back post, where Reyes and Cervantes are both in plenty of space. How neither of them got a touch on the ball, I don't know.
CLOSE: Up the other end now, and another chance goes begging for Ruiz. To be fair, he can't have expected the ball to come to him, with his view blocked by at least two Cuban defenders as a corner is delivered. The striker gets a touch, but not one he'd like, and the ball deflects wide and clear of danger.
Luis delivers a nice ball into Reyes, who looks to get his head on the ball. When he looks up, the linesman has his flag well raised for offside.
SUBSTITUTION FOR GUATEMALA: Another attacking option - Chinchilla - enters the field for the white and blue's. He's a hefty looking guy, and he's replaced Lopez up top.
SUBSTITUTION FOR CUBA: Luis departs, with Dranguet his replacement.
SAVE: The ball sits up nicely for Gomez, who fires towards Motta's goal. The Guatemala keeper shows good hands, holding the ball when he could have easily spilt it.
CLOSE: Brilliant take down from Ruiz, who chests and hits a shot in one quick motion. Fortunately for Cuba, two defenders combine to block the goal bound shot.
CLOSE: Wow, this game is getting exciting now! This time, Cuba attack. Martinez volleys an excellent effort towards goal, but bodies are thrown in the way and it's blocked.
GOAL FOR CUBA!
Brilliant move from the Cubans, and finally they've scored a goal in this tournament! And what an important one it might turn out to be for them. It's Reyes who has scored it, heading home from close range after a great cross from Gomez. The ball which found the wideman - from Martinez - was pinpoint, and Guatemala now have it all to do.
YELLOW CARD: Reyes is booked for his 'shirt off' celebration, though he doesn't seem too bothered by the caution!
Gomez, who provided the cross for the goal, is off receiving treatment. At the moment it's unclear why...
Ok Gomez is back on the pitch now, but now it's goalscorer Reyes who is departing. Struggling with cramp, he's stretched off. The Cubans will hope it's not his final action.
Guatemala are understandably pushing even harder now, resulting in such an open game of football. Whether than create anything clear cut however, remains to be seen.
Reyes is back on the pitch now. His goal was a really excellent display of determination, urging himself to get to the ball before the goalkeeper and Cuban defenders.
DISALLOWED: Guatemala have the ball in the net from Ruiz. It's ruled as offside, but it's unclear who is. Nobody looked to have strayed off to me, especially not the goalscorer. Cuba can consider themselves lucky there.
Cuba - and Reyes in particular - are visibly tiring. Can they hold on for the final 10 minutes?
If they can hold on, Cuba will face co-hosts USA on Saturday night. That's slightly jumping the gun though, they've got to make sure they take the points here first. El Salvador's players will be watching, hopeful that Guatemala can nick an equaliser.
Guerra goes down clutching his arm following a challenge from Ruiz. Perhaps it's the way he's landed that has resulted in pain, but Ruiz looks at him despicably. I genuinely laughed at the striker's reaction to the goalkeeper there!
SUBSTITUTION FOR CUBA: Having received treatment just now, Gomez is subbed as part of Cuba's final change of the game. The midfielder looks shattered, and Liban Perez is on to freshen things up.
CHANCE: Figueroa should do better when Pappa's mishit shot diverts into his path. Had he got a good first touch to the ball, he'd surely have scored, such was the distance between him and the goal. The seconds are slipping away for Guatemala now.
Reyes works the channel, showing few signs of the cramp which had him treated a few minutes back. The forward holds it up, runs down the touchline, gets tapped in the mouth and wins a free kick. It's clock-kill time for Cuba now.
Four extra minutes are signalled. It's unlikely that Guatemala can win this now, but an equaliser would have huge repercussions for Cuba....
SAVE: Important wrists from Guerra, who stops Pappa's speculative long-range effort from spoiling the party.
FULL TIME: CUBA 1-0 GUATEMALA
Incredible scenes here, with the Cubans hugging each other and celebrating their progression to the last eight. Just as they did in 2013, they've advanced courtesy of being one of the two best third placed teams. Guatemala and El Salvador - who were praying for a draw between these two tonight - are both on the next plane home.
That really was the least likely outcome for me, with Guatemala favourites to win the game. A draw also looked likely, meaning both sides would have been out, but ultimately Reyes' header was the crucial moment for the Leones del Caribe!
As stated a few minutes ago then, it is to be USA versus Cuba in the quarter final in Baltimore on Saturday night. The Cubans will go into the game on a high, with their first goal and win finally under their belts!
That's it from me tonight and I hope you've enjoyed the coverage of this one. Stick with Sports Mole for further coverage of the knockout stages of the CONCACAF Gold Cup.