Mexico is bracing itself for the start of an exciting not to say historic league season. This year is the bicentenary of the country’s declaration of independence, and the Mexican Football Association has decided to make its contribution to the many celebrations that will be held over the next 12 months by changing the name of the championship from the 'Clausura 2010' to 'Bicentenario 2010'.
Fittingly, it promises to be a wide-open contest, with any number of sides harbouring realistic hopes of coming out on top in a notoriously competitive league. To whet your appetite for the regular season, FIFA.com runs the rule over the three groups.
Toluca and the rest
The clear favourites to come out on top in Group 1 are perennial play-off contenders Toluca. Boasting the experienced Hector Mancilla and Antonio Naelson Sinha in their ranks, not to mention bright young hopes such as Carlos Esquivel, Nestor Calderon and the highly promising striker Raul Nava, Los Diablos Rojos should be there or thereabouts once more.
Vying with Toluca for top spot are a pack of success-hungry teams, led by a Guadalajara side that has endured some lean times of late but is looking to returning hero Adolfo Bofo Bautista to spark a revival. Arch rivals Atlas have also been going through a transitional phase and have a new coach in the Argentinian Carlos Ischia. Another side with the resources to mount a serious challenge is San Luis, now under the guidance of former Mexico international Ignacio Ambriz.
The two remaining sides in the section appear to be the obvious candidates for relegation. Queretaro made a dismal start to the 2009 Apertura campaign but pulled off a remarkable turnaround following Carlos Reynoso’s appointment as coach. That resurgence gave them a better points-per-game-played ratio than fellow Group 1 occupants Ciudad Juarez, who will need to improve on last season’s meagre haul of six points if they are to avoid the drop.
Too close to call
The battle for the play-off places in Group 2 promises to be intense. Still basking in the afterglow of their 2009 Apertura triumph, Monterrey will have to make do without goal machine Humberto Suazo, who has decamped to Real Zaragoza in Spain. Los Rayados kicked the year off in fine style, however, booking their place in the 2010 Copa Libertadores just a few days ago. America, the side Monterrey beat to get there, have a typically powerful squad at their disposal and will be intent on avenging that defeat in the season ahead.
2009 Apertura revelations Monarcas Morelia should mount another strong challenge. Gifted coach Tomas Boy can call on a talented and youthful squad that draws its inspiration from the inventive Elias Hernandez and midfielder Kalu Gastelum, both of whom are proven matchwinners. Eternal candidates Pachuca should also be in contention and will be desperate to erase memories of last term’s disappointing showing.
The other two sides in the section will be out to do more than just make up the numbers. Despite a limited budget and a shortage of star names, Puebla invariably manage to book a place in the end-of-season play-offs, while Jaguares have just bolstered their playing staff with the biggest foreign signing of the close season, Colombian striker Jackson Martinez.
Cruz Azul aiming to go one better
Group 3 also features a strong line-up. After finishing runners-up in three of the last four championships, Cruz Azul have invested heavily in a bid to rid themselves of the 'nearly men' tag. Mexico City rivals Pumas UNAM should be in the frame yet again, having decided to leave their squad unchanged for the third championship running and draw instead on their sizeable pool of academy players.
One side that has been busy in the transfer market is Tigres of Monterrey, who have no doubt been spurred to spend by a trophy-less run that stretches back 28 years. Santos have also had the cheque book out, and with the likes of Oswaldo Sanchez and Matias Vuoso to call on, they now have one of the most talented squads in the country.
Rounding off the pool are Atlante, who warmed up for the new season by taking part in the FIFA Club World Cup, and an Estudiantes Tecos side bolstered by their recent success in the Torneo Interliga, in which they claimed a surprise Copa Libertadores slot at the expense of Puebla.
Whoever comes out on top in each group, the 2010 Bicentenario looks sure to provide plenty of excitement in a momentous year for Mexico and its football fans.