Mexico take aim at US curse
For those Mexican football fans accustomed to making the cross-border jaunt to see their heroes take on northern neighbours USA, the last ten years will have tested the resolve of even the hardiest souls among their number.
Not since13 March 1999 have El Tri beaten the United States on American soil, crashing to eight defeats and picking up a solitary draw from nine encounters in the US since that day.
As a result, the importance of Wednesday's friendly encounter between the CONCACAF heavyweights transcends even the fierce sporting rivalry that has always surrounded this fixture. Mexico are determined to ensure their winless run does not extend to a staggering ten games, while the Stars and Stripes would love to draw out their impressive head-to-head record still further.
Returning to the fold
For the task ahead, Mexico coach Hugo Sanchez has decided to lean heavily on El Tricolor's legion of foreign-based talent. But will the experience garnered in some of Europe's biggest leagues be enough to end a decade of heartbreak?
Joining Mexico's contingent of returning stars are three players who, for different reasons, have been out of the national team picture for quite some time. Perhaps the most unexpected call-up was that of forward Antonio de Nigris, who appeared to have lost his way after a promising start to a career that included a memorable goal against Brazil in 2001.
The Monterrey-born striker has cut a nomadic figure, plying his trade for no fewer than ten different clubs in a journey that has taken him from Brazil to Turkey, with stops in Colombia, Spain and China along the way.
Just when it seemed he would never again rediscover his early promise, a move to Turkish minnows Gaziantepspor reignited De Nigris' footballing flame. Known for his fearsome heading ability, his nine goals in the first half of this campaign have earned him a move to capital club Ankaraspor and a Tricolor call-up.
Also back in the fold is Brazilian-born creator Antonio Naelson "Sinha", absent from the national squad since Sanchez replaced former boss Ricardo La Volpe. However, his superb form for club side Toluca has given him the opportunity to defend the colours of his adopted country once more.
Another man with a point to prove is Stuttgart's Pavel Pardo, capped over 100 times for his country. Having opted out of the 2007 Copa America citing fatigue, the vastly experienced midfielder rejoins Sanchez' squad for the Houston clash after an absence lasting nigh on six months.
Injuries hit hard
Though seemingly well-equipped to lock horns with their arch-rivals, even away from home, coach Sanchez' plans have been rocked by injuries to three key men ahead of the match on 6 February.
After failing to spark at big-spending Ukrainian outfit Shakhtar Donetsk, Nery Castillo has shown glimpses of his undoubted ability since joining Manchester City on loan. Unfortunately for the livewire forward, he now faces up to four weeks on the sidelines after picking up a shoulder injury.
Another struck down by injury is Deportivo La Coruna flyer Andres Guardado, who pulled a muscle during his side's vital away win over Real Betis at the weekend. The gifted left winger, a scorer in his country's last game against the United States, will not be repeating the feat in Houston.
Joining him on the absentee list is Stuttgart defender Ricardo Osorio, another to fall victim to a leg-muscle injury. Yet despite being unable to call on these proven performers, Sanchez will still feel that victory, and the end of Mexico's ten-year jinx, are well within his side's reach.