In an exclusive interview with FIFA.com only two weeks ago, Mexico coach Javier Aguirre explained how he needed "committed players who understand that there are just seven games remaining and that we have to fight to the bitter end". Now, with their visit to El Salvador looming large, the new incumbent has named his squad for the first of what he called the seven 'finals' that stand between El Tri and the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™.
The list announced last week contains a little bit of everything, from big-name recalls and surprise omissions to talented youngsters and survivors of the Sven-Goran Eriksson era. It is not the radical overhaul that many predicted when the man they call El Vasco (The Basque) began his second stint in charge of the national team in April, but rather a gradual change designed to equip the squad for the particular challenges of each game.
Understandably, the recall of El Tri legend Cuauhtemoc Blanco has been generating considerable press coverage. Currently with MLS side Chicago Fire, the forward had called time on his international career in mid-2008 but changed tack after Aguirre's appointment, declaring himself available for selection once more.
The relationship between player and coach dates back to Aguirre's first stint as Mexico coach in 2001, when El Tri were facing elimination from the race for Korea/Japan 2002. Despite the player having just returned from a lengthy spell out injured, El Vasco put his faith in Blanco, who duly delivered with a series of sensational displays, culminating in the team's eventual qualification for the finals.
Perhaps an even bigger surprise, however, is the return of Oscar Perez, the man who kept goal for Mexico at those finals in Korea/Japan. Now 37, the custodian finds himself back in the international set-up four years after he last pulled on the green jersey and tasked with mentoring Guillermo Ochoa and Jesus Corona, two talented young keepers who look ready to fill the position in the years to come.
Also back in the squad are European-based players Guillermo Franco, Hector Moreno and Francisco Javier Rodriguez who, through a combination of injury and lack of playing time, failed to make the roster for Eriksson's final games.
Absentees and votes of confidence
There are also several notable absentees from this week's squad list, like that of goalkeeper Oswaldo Sanchez, who had been ever present in the Mexican squad for the last decade. Missing also on this occasion will be Leandro Augusto and Matias Vuoso, despite their having been indispensable during Eriksson's tenure.
After the appointment of the Swede's successor, the country's media asked aloud whether two stars of the FIFA U-17 World Cup winning side from 2005, Giovani dos Santos and Carlos Vela, would continue to feature. The pair had been an integral part of Eriksson's strike force, but their failure to weigh in with goals had made their continued selection the subject of controversy.
Their inclusion in the current squad would suggest that Gio, impressive since moving to England's Ipswich Town two months ago, and Vela, capable whenever called upon by Arsenal this season, will both have the chance to prove themselves to the new coach. The same goes for Nery Castillo, who also received a vote of confidence from El Vasco despite struggling to get playing time with Ukraine's Shakhtar Donetsk.
Finally, it would be amiss not to mention several players who have forced their way into Aguirre's squad on the back of sterling performances on the domestic front. Miguel Sabah, the leading Mexican goalscorer in the Primera Division, will travel to San Salvador for the June 6 showdown, as will Toluca's defensive bulwark, Edgar Duenas. The latter's Toluca team-mate, Carlos Esquivel, and Pachuca winger Jose Maria Cardenas will also form part of squad to take on Carlos de los Cobos' men.
Unafraid to recall some and drop others, Javier Aguirre has firmly put his stamp on his first squad. All that remains now is for those he has entrusted to match the coach's decisiveness and passion as the country bids to stay on course for a place in South Africa.