With the first phase of Mexico's 2009 Clausura finishing last weekend, FIFA.com looks back at a campaign that has been more unpredictable than any in recent years. Who would have thought that two of the teams odds-on for relegation would not only avoid the drop, but also qualify for the end-of-season play-offs (liguilla), or that three of the country's big four would fail to even make the liguilla?
At the bottom end of the table there was drama aplenty too. With the teams most widely tipped for the drop, Indios and Puebla, enjoying exceptional seasons, Necaxa and Tigres, two clubs with proud traditions and considerable silverware, found themselves fighting all the way to stave off relegation. In the end it was fans of the Aguascalientes' outfit who were left weeping inconsolably, with those of the Tigres breathing a mighty sigh of relief.
At the end of the regular season last weekend, the top of the table had a familiar look to it. The country's two most successful clubs in recent times, Pachuca and Toluca, again occupied the top two slots, having dominated the tournament almost from start to finish. Both finished on 36 points, with only goal difference handing top spot to Los Tuzos, who now face Jaguares in the liguilla quarter-finals.
Los Diablos Rojos, meanwhile, will cross swords with this season's revelations Indios. Just a few weeks ago, the team from Ciudad Juarez were bottom of the averaged three-season standings (used to determine relegation spots), but a six-game unbeaten run lifted them clear of danger. After securing their top-flight status ten days ago, they then scored twice in the dying minutes last Sunday to defeat Guadalajara and grab a play-off berth.
Occupying third place after the first phase of the Clausura were UNAM Pumas, the only one of the country's big four to qualify for the liguilla. Ricardo Ferreti's side had jointly the best defensive record in the league alongside Tecos UAG, who will be their quarter-final opponents in the play-offs, to the surprise of many who tipped them to go down.
The remaining quarter-final features Monterrey, who started the campaign well only to lose momentum late on, and Puebla, a side without many household names but with enough determination and togetherness to upset the odds and get themselves in contention for the title.
Disappointments all round
But what of the three most popular sides in Mexico and their failure to make the end-of-season tournament? Guadalajara again paid the price for competing on both domestic and international fronts, though they did come agonisingly close only to lose out at the death to Indios. That win by the frontier side also put paid to the play-off hopes of America, who have now gone four consecutive campaigns without even reaching the liguilla.
However, perhaps the biggest disappointment of all was provided by Cruz Azul, runners-up in last year's Apertura. With practically the same squad as the previous season, they inexplicably failed to get going and eventually finished last in the overall standings.
Nowhere were there more tears, though, than among the fans of Necaxa. In stark contrast to the early 90s, when they enjoyed huge success, Los Rojiblancos flirted with relegation all season despite having invested heavily in new players this term. Their fate was eventually sealed in their final game - a 1-0 defeat at the hands of America which, coupled with a 1-1 draw for fellow strugglers Tigres at home to Morelia, consigned Los Rayos to the first relegation in their history.