Mexico back on track
© AFP

Between 2002 and 2006 Mexico were ever-present in the upper echelons of the FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking. And throughout that period, El Tricolor earned admirers around the globe with their open and attractive football, a style of play that led to a remarkable 21-game unbeaten run and notable displays at major international competitions.

These included reaching the semi-finals at the FIFA Confederations Cup Germany 2005 and victory on home soil in the 2003 CONCACAF Gold Cup. Their impressive run of success led to the Mexicans ascending as high as fourth in the World Ranking, and their consistency would also lead eventually to El Tri being seeded in the draw for the 2006 FIFA World Cup Germany™, a status they had only previously achieved as hosts of the 1970 and 1986 events.

What comes up
The Mexicans' exit at the Round of 16 stage on German soil, and changes to the way the FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking is calculated, both contrived to send the Aztecas plummeting down the standings and out of the top 20. The way back was to become a struggle for the team, then under the guidance of former striking hero Hugo Sanchez.

Mexico refused to buckle under the pressure, however, Sanchez's charges battling back to finish an impressive third at the 2007 Copa America. This noteworthy feat included a group-stage victory over eventual winners Brazil, and the ranking points earned helped fuel El Tri's charge back into the top ten.

Life appeared to be rosy for the men in green, but Sanchez's men struggled to recapture their Copa form over the following months and sank into a veritable crisis of confidence. This unsteady run of results eventually led to the dismissal of the former Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid centre-forward, and the country's descent all the way to number 32 in the rankings. Interim coach Jesus Ramirez was able to steady the ship during his short reign, though the sprinkling of good results achieved failed to make an immediate impact on their place in the standings.

The Sven effect
Mexico put their faith in experience when appointing their next permanent coach, opting for well-travelled Swedish supremo Sven-Goran Eriksson. The former England and Manchester City manager boasted successful spells in Portugal, Italy and his homeland, but the pressure was still on to get El Tri back on track - and fast. With very little time to work with his new squad, Eriksson faced his first major challenge: taking on a very strong Honduras side in their opening match of the first group phase of qualifying for South Africa 2010.

In spite of having just one day to put his players through their paces, the Aztecas were able to grind out a vital 2-1 success over their Catracho rivals. The Eriksson era had started promisingly and the good vibes continued with a 3-0 thrashing of Jamaica and a hard-fought 2-1 win over a well-drilled Canada unit.

Under their new coach, Mexico sit proudly atop Group 2 in the North, Central America and Caribbean Zone, and the positive results have already borne fruit. In just two months, El Tricolor have leapt up eight places and now lie in 24th spot in the FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking. And though they have yet to hit the heights of recent years, Mexico are most definitely heading in the right direction.


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