Now that the smoke has settled on another domestic campaign, Mexico's elite clubs are gearing up for the eight-team Liguilla that will reveal the identity of the 2008 Clausura champions. The quarter-final actions starts on Thursday with Guadalajara taking on Monterrey, Santos Laguna facing Necaxa, Cruz Azul going up against Jaguares and San Luis battling Toluca.

At first sight there are no clear favourites for the title. The regular season was notable for the absence of a dominant force, with Guadalajara making a strong start before fading and Santos recovering to find some late momentum. That said, the duo should both be in the mix along with Cruz Azul, Toluca and San Luis.

Chivas stake their claim
Despite their late slump, Guadalajara deserve nothing but praise for remaining at the pinnacle of Mexican football. Season after season, Chivas have to endure the sight of their star men heading for the bright lights of Europe and season after season the Rojiblancos unearth talented youngsters to replace them.

Few would argue that the country's best-supported team have also been the stand-out performers of this campaign to date. Unbeaten until virtually the end of the campaign, Guadalajara boast a frontline bristling with intent and a rock-like defence. Their status as championship candidates is undeniable.

Lifting the Clausura crown would also be a morale booster ahead of what is likely to be another summer exodus. Defensive linchpin Francisco 'Maza' Rodriguez has already signed on the dotted line for Dutch giants PSV Eindhoven, and the word on the grapevine is that his partners at the back, Hector Reynoso and Jonny Magallon, will also be crossing the Atlantic.

Another big name lining up in the final eight are Cruz Azul. After many seasons of flattering to deceive, the new-look Cementeros, led by the fearsome Cesar Villaluz and goalkeeper Yosgart Gutierrez, could at last have the resources to mount a serious challenge.

The third of the country's heavyweights primed for action is Toluca. Under the canny tutelage of former Argentina boss Jose Pekerman, Los Diablos slipped quietly into fifth place and could yet spring a surprise now the business end of the season has arrived.

Santos revival
There is little doubt, though, that a Santos Laguna triumph would represent the biggest shock of all. Twelve months ago the men from Torreon were just 90 minutes away from relegation. Disaster averted, Los Guerreros invested heavily but wisely and with the young but successful Daniel Guzman at the controls and the tireless Daniel Luduena providing the inspiration on the pitch, Santos had stormed into second by the season's end.

Also emerging from the shadows were the dangerous San Luis. Los Potosinos were rank outsiders when the competition got underway, but thanks to handsome contributions of Alfredo and Tressor Moreno and a nigh-on impenetrable defence, San Luis are the outfit that everyone wants to avoid.

Talking of solid defensive units, there are few as effective as Necaxa's. Los Rayos conceded a miserly 12 goals during the regular season, one of the best records in the history of the Mexican league, and while they may be a little goal-shy at times, the men in red and white will be pushover.

Also back in the big time are Jaguares, who were indebted to striker Adolfo Bautista for their sixth-place finish. The final members of the select band of eight are Monterrey, a side transformed by the arrival of Ricardo La Volpe at the helm and the form of Chilean striker Humberto Suazo, the season's leading scorer to date.