With just two games of the final hexagonal phase to play, El Salvador lie four points behind fourth-placed Costa Rica, the current occupiers of the one available play-off berth in North, Central America and Caribbean Zone qualifying for the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™. Yet you will not find Los Cuscatlecos throwing in the towel while even the slimmest of chances still remain.

The fact they are mathematically still in the running is a feat in itself, with their hopes having been revived by 9 September's last-gasp 1-0 home win over Los Ticos. And next up on the road to South Africa 2010 is an even more daunting challenge: taking on in-form Mexico in their fortress-like Estadio Azteca.

Mexico are favourites, but if we win it'll be a surprise not a miracle. I've got faith in this squad and what matters is we've got young players with plenty of courage.

El Salvador coach Carlos de los Cobos

Nor is it the first time that the Salvadorans have found their path to glory blocked by regional superpowers El Tri. The first of these came in La Bicolor's second group game at Mexico 1970, their first appearance at the finals stage of a FIFA World Cup. Having gone down 3-0 against Belgium in their opener, Los Cuscatlecos held their own early on against Mexico until a goal in the final minute of the first period set the hosts on their way to a 4-0 rout.

Their next decisive clash will bring back much happier memories for the Central Americans. In the final six-team round of qualifying for Spain 1982, El Salvador upset the odds to clinch a 1-0 victory over their green-shirted rivals on neutral territory in Honduras. This win would prove vital in the final reckoning, with Los Cuscatlecos travelling to their second FIFA World Cup and El Tri forced to watch the tournament on television.

In-depth preparations
Though El Salvador will take the field at Mexico's Azteca stronghold on 10 October as clear underdogs, there are signs that a surprise could be on the cards. For starters, they have the inside track on their forthcoming opponents, with coach Carlos de los Cobos having been born in Mexico and spent a number of years working with current Tricolor supremo Javier Aguirre.

What is more, De los Cobos has devised a plan to give his side a fighting chance of being the first visitors to win in the Azteca during South Africa 2010 qualifying. In contrast to all the other teams to have taken on Mexico in Mexico City so far, El Salvador have flown in six days before the game and have decamped to nearby Queretaro in order to acclimatise to the much-feared altitude and smog. "Mexico are favourites, but if we win it'll be a surprise not a miracle. I've got faith in this squad and what matters is we've got young players with plenty of courage," said the experienced strategist.

"My players are fully aware that we need to win to stay in the hunt," he added. "It's going to be a very special game because I'm back in my country but I've grown to love El Salvador. I've got a job to do as a coach and I'll be aiming to pick up a good result on Saturday. I hope the Mexican fans understand that."

Wise words from a coach who must put aside the fact that guiding his adopted nation to three points could damage his homeland's chances of achieving direct qualification. And buoyed by the confidence gained from the late win over Costa Rica and De los Cobos' clever preparations, El Salvador will be determined to do just that and keep their South African dream alive.