Champs from the start

Mighty Mexico's greatest-ever footballing glory came not via Hugo Sanchez or Cuauhtémoc Blanco, Garcia Aspe or Luis 'El Matador' Hernandez, but rather a smashing gang of largely unknown teenage go-getters who set the world of football alight with a run to the FIFA U-17 World Cup title in Peru.

It is, to date, the only world title for a country widely regarded as top dog in CONCACAF.

Fast-forward two years from the scenes of massive jubilation and wild parades in the streets of Mexico City and the guts of that world-beating team (ten players to be exact) are back on the world stage at Canada 2007.

The pair of Carlos Vela and Barcelona starlet Giovanni dos Santos will be the standard bearers, carrying heavy hopes on their narrow, young shoulders. The duo has an understanding near telepathic on the pitch, reviving nostalgic echoes of great past tandems of football legend and lore.

Monterrey-born Dos Santos was named second-best player in the U-17 Peru finals (behind only Brazil's Anderson) and Vela - who hails from sun-splashed Cancun - finished top scorer with no less than five goals.

"We both play in Spain now [Vela was loaned out by Arsenal to Salamanca last season]. We call each other a lot on the phone, but haven't seen each other in a while," said Dos Santos, who is expected to make his debut for Barca and Mexico's senior sides this year. "But when we stepped out onto the pitch for the first time in Toronto it was like we were never apart."

The Mexican team, in fact, looked a vision of organisation and team understanding in their first training session at the National Soccer Stadium in Toronto on Thursday. Head coach Jesus Ramirez - who held the U-17 reins in Peru - hardly ever had to say a word to the lads. He simply strolled around the pitch with a smile, occasionally changing the nature of the drills or jovially shouting some praise or a light-hearted joke.

The stuff of legend
This kind of mechanical, unspoken chemistry is the stuff of legendary teams. And at the heart of this impressive squad is the tandem of Vela and Dos Santos.

Whereas Dos Santos comes off a little impish, always with a joke and a smile for team-mates, Vela has a bit of a steelier countenance, which came out in full force when he spoke to after practice.

"We will need to play with great creativity and skill, but we will also have to fight for the cause," said the Salamanca man who dyed his hair blond for the finals. "This is a strength in this team that is often overlooked. Sure, we have talent, but we have guts and spirit and the courage to fight for the shirt too."

"I think we have what it takes to win this tournament," he went on. "But it won't be easy, and we can't think the trophy will be handed to us. We must show spirit and play like the brothers we are!"

Another 'brother' in the team and 'old boy' from Peru 2005 is the outstanding Cruz Azul midfielder Cesar Villaluz. He shares Vela's slight caution and determination. "We know if we play to our full potential that we can beat any team in the world and any team in this competition," the diminutive midfielder said. "But just because we won the U-17 World Cup two years ago, it is not a foregone conclusion that we will win this one here. We must be cautious."

In truth though, caution is most likely not something the smashing Mexicans and their star tandem will be showing off in their first match against fellow Peru 2005 veterans Gambia in Toronto on Monday. Mexico's 16 goals in six games at Peru 2005 averages out to over 2.5 per contest and the junior world champions will surely be looking for more of the same in the Great White North.