As has become customary in the CONCACAF region, local powerhouses Mexico started as red-hot favourites to clinch one of the berths for the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™. Not since Italy 1990 have the Aztecas missed out on qualification for the main event, and with a highly promising new generation of players coming through the fans are rightly confident that another successful campaign lies ahead.
The side started well enough, roaring through to the first group stage under the watchful eye of stand-in coach Jesus 'Chucho' Ramirez, who replaced the sacked Hugo Sanchez and then made way for world-renowned Swede Sven Goran-Eriksson. Upstarts Belize put in a decent effort against the regional giants, but in the end they found themselves on the wrong side of a 9-0 aggregate hiding.
With a so-called Golden Generation, champions at the FIFA U-17 World Cup Peru 2005 and quarter-finalists at the FIFA U-20 World Cup Canada 2007, also emerging, these were supposed to be heady times for Mexican football.
However, after only 10 months and 13 games in the Mexico hot seat, the Swede was sacked and replaced with Javier 'El Vasco' Aguirre. After a pair of losses in the final 'hexagonal' round to the United States and Honduras, the Mexico FA pulled the plug on Sven, opting for Aguirre, who guided the side at Korea/Japan 2002.
Central to the new boss' hopes of sealing a place in the South African sun will be lynchpins Rafael Marquez (Barcelona), Carlos Salcido (PSV Eindhoven) and Stuttgart duo Pavel Pardo and Ricardo Osorio. Assisting them will be a supporting cast of exciting new stars already accustomed to grabbing the headlines in the national press, among them Andres Guardado (Deportivo La Coruna), Nery Castillo (Shakhtar Donetsk), Giovani dos Santos (Tottenham) and Guillermo Ochoa (America).
That blend looks formidable on paper and El Tri will need to recover quickly from a shaky start in qualifying if they are to have a chance of reaching in finals in one of three automatic berths from North, Central America and the Caribbean.