PROFILE | BY SWAPNANEEL PARASAR Follow @Swapyo on Twitter
The time is now! The largest country in the subcontinent is about to throw open its arms to the footballing fraternity at large come 6 October as India host the 2017 FIFA U-17 World Cup.
24 countries from six confederations will be competing for one of the biggest honours in youth football, with matches being hosted in six cities across the country.
In this segment, we take a look at Mexico's U-17 football team and guide you through their journey to the world cup, highlighting their strengths, tactics and key players.
Confederation: CONCACAF (North America)
Nicknames: Los Niños Héroes
Known for: Possession-based, build-up play
Coach: Mario Arteaga
PAST RECORDS AND LAURELS
Not only are the Mexico Under-17 team a North American powerhouse, the junior El Tri are a force to be reckoned with in global age-group football. It came as no surprise when Mexico were the top seeded among all 24 teams participating in the 2017 FIFA U-17 World Cup draw in July.
Two-time champions, in 2005 and most recently in 2011, when they became the first host nation to lift the coveted trophy. Mexico have dominated the immediate past editions and are once again likely to be the punters' favourites with a fourth placed finish in Chile, 2015 and runners-up in UAE, 2013.
This will be the 13th time Mexico would be taking part in the U-17 World Cup. However, Los Niños do possess the unwanted record of being an incumbent title-holder failing to defend their crown having failed to qualify for the 2007 edition after winning it in Peru, 2005.
To go with their universal prowess, Mexico are a record seven time CONCACAF U-17 Championship winners, also having won the last four titles on the spin, in editions they have participated in, except for 2011 wherein they did not enter by virtue of being the World Cup hosts later that year.
ROAD TO U-17 WORLD CUP
Clubbed in the same group as eternal rivals USA in the 2017 CONCACAF U-17 Championship in Panama earlier this year, a 3-4 loss against the Americans meant that Mexico would emerge as the runner-up from Group C to the Classification Stage.
6-0 and 5-1 spankings of El Salvador and Jamaica respectively in the group followed up with wins over Panama (1-0) and Costa Rica (6-1). A date with the USA was set up again in the grand finale at the Estadio Rommel Fernandez in Panama City.
Andrew Cartleton drew first blood past the hour mark and it seemed that Mexico's trophy juggernaut would come to an end until Carlos Robles equalised for the Junior El Tri in injury time, taking the game into penalties.
All five attempts were successful by Mexico as a 5-4 scoreline in the shootout saw Mario Arteaga's boys book their tickets to India with a piece of silverware.
PREPARATIONS AHEAD OF THE MEGA-EVENT
Twenty-five players were first called in for a camp which began in June at the Centro de Alto Rendimiento (CAR) High-Performance Centre of the Mexican Football Federation (FMF) in Mexico City.
The following month, a trip to Japan yielded a second-place finish in the 21st International Youth Soccer competition in Niigata between 15-17 July. Starting with a 7-3 smashing of Niigata Selection, a 0-1 loss to Japan U-17 followed but a 2-1 win over Croatia U-17 ended their campaign on six points from a possible nine.
In early August, Mexico hosted the Torneo de 4 Naciones which included Colombia, Chile and India's U-17 teams between 3-6 August. India were on the receiving end of a 5-1 tonking and a 3-1 win over Chile followed suit, in a game which will be replayed in the World Cup finals on 14 October in Guwahati.
A high voltage 4-4 draw in the final game with Colombia ensured Mexico lifted the trophy with striker Roberto De La Rosa winning the top scorer's award for his six strikes in the tournament.
After hosting a conditioning camp for a fortnight in the Torreon Municipality, Coahuila the squad broke for a short vacation in the last week of August to return on 10 September at the CAR. Following a week's training at home, Mexico would travel to Marbella in Spain, wherein they will play four warm-up games before they arrive on Indian shores to open their World Cup campaign against Iraq in Kolkata on 8 October.
TEAM COACH AND HIS IDEOLOGY
Mario Arteaga will be at the helm of affairs of the Mexico U-17 team for a second straight world cup. Having led the junior El Tri to a fourth-placed finish in the last edition, the 46-year-old will be hoping to go two steps further and return with the glory to his country.
A striker in his playing days, Arteaga was a product of the Chivas youth side and went on to represent Mexico in the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona.
His playing style is defined by his team prioritizing the order and possession of the ball. Playing from the back, his side press up front and aim to take advantage of the opportunities that generate in the opposition half.
Roberto De La Rosa and Ian Torres make up a dangerous attacking trio with Lainez. Torres who impressed in and in the build-up to the CONCACAF U-17 Championship has had a tough time to keep his place in the squad as De La Rosa's emergence in the recent competitions has made him a lethal pawn up front in Arteaga's scheme of plans.
With inputs from Roberto Navarro @rnavarro17