America, Chivas and Pumas are regarded as the eternal mainstays of Mexican football, but they are all looking up at plucky new boys Jaguares de Chiapas in the 2006 Apertura.

Chiapas currently lead Apertura group one with 21 points from 12 games, leaving them one point ahead of Atlas and an impressive four ahead of Mexican giants and perennial favourites Chivas de Guadalajara. In the overall tables, the new kids on the block are in second place and pushing hard - one point behind group three leaders Toluca and one ahead of group two frontrunners San Luis.

A state in the extreme southeast of Mexico, Chiapas is known more for its recent social strife and grizzly civil war than for any achievements in football. However, the wheels were set in motion for that all to change in 2002 when Jaguares de Chiapas were founded and began their unlikely assault on the established football order.

A tropical area populated largely by poor rural farmers, many of whom are direct descendents of the Mayan peoples, Chiapas has known much suffering of late. Juaguares, however, have provided a much-needed source of pride and joy, with the focal point of it all the Estadio Victor Manuel Reyna in Tuxtla. Originally built in 1982 to hold just 6,000 fans as home to the region's low-level local sides, the stadium now seats 28,000 and is bearing witness to a remarkable football awakening.

After a troubled start to their footballing fortunes at top level in 2002 when the franchise was bought out and moved from Veracruz to Chiapas, Jaguares managed to endure their growing pains with relative ease. Coach Fernando Quirarte had previously brought stability to the young team and, in the 2006 Clausura, Luis Fernando Tena led the side to finish with the second-best record in the 'regular season', putting fans in the region on a justifiable high.

A place in the Mexican Primera Division play-offs came along with their sparkling run throgh the campaign, but the new boys eventually crashed out in the quarter-finals at the hands of historic giants and old pros, Chivas. 

Rojas running riot
So far in the current Apertura championship, the side from Chiapas have won six games, lost three and drawn three - an impressive continuation of their fine run in the Clausura and also in the 2004 and 2005 Chiapas Cup.

With wins over Necaxa, Club America and Chivas under their belt so far in the campaign, the only home game they have lost at the fortress-like Manuel Reyna came at the hands of Mexico City's Pumas UNAM back in September.

With the club now led by former Chivas boss Eduardo de la Torre after the departure of the much-beloved Luis Fernando Tena for Club America, the coach's on-field lieutenant is Costa Rican-born scoring sensation Oscar Rojas. Formerly of Veracruz and Dorados, Rojas seems to have found a home in Mexico's steamy south and is enjoying his football, leading the team in attack with six goals.

The goal-hungry Tico international summed up the side's sense of desire and focus on teamwork well, while also calling for calm ahead of what is bound to be a long and tricky season. "We are a motivated team, we always work hard together and we are eager to show everyone how good we can be," Rojas remarked. "But it is not just about a few good results, we must keep the pressure going and play well throughout the season."

Javier Saavedra, on loan from Tigres, and Alejandro Vela, brother of Mexican U-17 superstar and world champion Carlos, are also chipping in to help in attack - each with three goals of their own.

All three top scorers were part of a massive influx of players who arrived at the start of the 2006 Apertura. In all, eight new faces joined the Jaguares' ranks, with 10 contributors from last season heading to pastures new.

The current mood in long-suffering Chiapas is one of optimism and hope for the future, a relief to many in the impoverished region. Now, as their champions, Jaguares, aim to build a footballing reputation, some in the area are even beginning to ponder global glories. After all, if they manage to win the Apertura, a place in the CONCACAF Champions Cup would follow, sparking the dream of taking on the biggest names in the game at the FIFA Club World Cup.

Given the meteoric rise of Chiapas' ravenous Jaguares over their five short years of life, who would bet against them rubbing shoulders with the world's elite before long?