The Dark horse

Mexico's performance in the World Cup has not been commensurate with its potential. Will the winner of the London Olympics gold Set the record straight this time?

Though Mexico is yet to win the FIFA World Cup, it has been one of the better performing teams in the quadrennial event. El Tricolour, as the team is known, has qualified for 14 World Cups, making it to the quarter finals twice in 1970 and 1986 - both on home soil.

The British settlers (mostly from Cornwall), who came to Mexico to help in harnessing the country's mineral wealth, introduced football in the 1900s and a five-team League set-up was put in place by 1905. The sport in those early days was usually associated with mining corporations and predominantly used as a tool to indoctrinate modern labour practices such as teamwork, discipline and competitive spirit amongst unskilled locals.

MEXICO PLAYED ITS FIRST international game, a friendly against Guatemala, on January 1, 1923. The match, organised by the Mexican ambassador to Guatemala, Juan de Dios Bojorquez, saw Club America, staffed exclusively with Mexican players, masquerading as the national squad. The team won 3-2, with Jose Diaz Izquierdo scoring Mexico's first international goal in the 25th minute.

The Federacion Mexicana de Futbol Asociacion (the Mexican Football Association) was formed four years later and the team took part in the inaugural FIFA World Cup in Uruguay in 1930. Playing the first match of the tournament, it went down to France, but not before Juan Carreno scored Mexico's first World Cup goal in the 4-1 defeat.

THE COUNTRY'S FOOTBALLING system, despite having a professional league set-up, was weighed down by constant corruption and lack of infrastructure, and the national team failed to make a mark on the international stage, qualifying forthe World Cup again only in 1950. Until the 1970 World Cup, Mexico managed only one win against Czechoslovakia (3-1) in 1962.

But hosting the World Cup in 1970 changed the country's footballing fortunes, as it made it to the quarterfinals, before losing 4-1 to Italy. The team, which included midfield star Enrique Borja, impressed with its short passing game and sharp dribbling skills.

The good organisation and the fanatic crowd support ensured another hosting right for the country in 1986. This time, the national squad topped its group, defeating Belgium (2-1), drawing with Paraguay (1-1) and beating Iraq (1-0). In the Round of 16, Mexico defeated Bulgaria 2-0 to make another quarterfinal appearance. In the match, Mexico's first goal, scored by midfielder Manuel Negrete, is considered one of the most memorable ones in World Cup history. Negrete controlled the ball beautifully on the edge of the box, played a neat one-two with Javier Aguirre before sending the 100,000-strong crowd at the Azteca Stadium into a delirium by scoring with a spectacular scissor-kick.

THE TEAM, COACHED by Yugoslavia- born Bora Milutinovic, also dubbed the "miracle worker", lost to eventual finalist Germany 4-1 on penalties after the teams had failed to score in regulation and extra-time. But in one of the darkest times for Mexican football, the Federation was involved in the Cachirules scandal of 1988 and was barred from taking part in the 1990 World Cup in Italy after being indicted for using over-aged players in the qualifying rounds of the 1989 FIFA Youth Championship.

Mexico, however, bounced back to qualify for the 1994 and '98 World Cups. It won its first senior-level FIFA trophy, the Confederations Cup, in 1999, beating Brazil 4-3 in the final. Cuauhtemoc Blanco, famous for his signature bunny hop, was the star for the host nation, sharing the Golden Shoe award as the tournament's top scorer with Ronaldinho. He also won the Silver Ball.

THE NINE-TIME CONCACAF winner, the most successful team from the region, also won the gold medal at the 2012 London Olympics, getting the better of Brazil. Peralta scored twice in Mexico's 2-1 win.

* * * Of `TOTA' Football & Hugo the PRO

Antonio "Tota" Carbajal, also known as "El Cinco Copas", was only 21 when he made his World Cup debut against Brazil in front of 80,000 boisterous fans at the Maracana Stadium. He conceded four goals in the game but went on to participate in five World Cups, becoming the first player to do so.

Jorge Campos, or "El Chapulin", till date is the most charismatic as well as eccentric character to have donned the Mexico jersey. The diminutive goalkeeper, capped 130 times by the national side, playing in the 1994 and '98 Mundials, was well known for his self-designed colourful attires as well as his agility in the goal. Campos, also a more than capable outfield player, often operated up-field as a striker, scoring 34 goals in his club career.

Jared Borgetti was a real fox in the box, scoring 46 times for the national side. A journeyman player throughout his club career, "El Zorro del Desierto" had exceptional heading qualities and was often the lone man leading the Mexican line for the first decade of the 21st century. His looping headed goal against Italy in a first round game of the 2002 World Cup was a treat to watch.

Hugo Sanchez (in pic), probably the best player from Mexico so far, was a star of the Real Madrid side between 1985 and '92. Mexico's ninth all-time leading goal scorer with 29 strikes, Sanchez was voted No. 26 among the best footballers of the 20th century by the International Federation of Football History and Statistics.