Everything will be decided tonight when Mexico plays Haiti in the Olympic qualifying finale. If Mexico wins, El Tri could advance as the Group B runner up and would face the U.S. in a do-or-die semifinal Friday in Nashville.
Anything short of a victory - and even a win is no guarantee of advancing - and this Olympic campaign would go down as a major disappointment for Mexico.
While El Tri's fate will be decided tonight, coach Hugo Sanchez's own future will be up for review on March 31. By then, the Olympic ticket will have been punched or revoked and the senior team will have played Ghana in London.
However, if what many thought was inconceivable comes to fruition and Mexico does not get out of the group stage, that should not signal the end of Sanchez's coaching tenure. As embarrassing or catastrophic a fate that would be, it would be the Under-23's fate and not the full national team's. And however you spin it, the Under-23 national team is not as important as the senior side.
With the full national team, Sanchez has had mixed results as well. Mexico lost in the Gold Cup 2007 final and bowed out in the semifinals of the 2007 Copa America. He's had his share of setbacks in friendlies (losing to Paraguay in Azteca perhaps the most painful). But the national team is evolving and well into this current cycle. Sanchez has brought in the next generation of national team talent in Giovani Dos Santos, Carlos Vela, Nery Castillo and Jonny Magallon; has given more responsibility to players such as Guillermo Ochoa and Andres Guardado; and has moved Mexico into the post-Blanco, -Borgetti and -Oswaldo era.
Sure, he might go down as the worst Under-23 coach in Mexico's history - at least based on results. Even then, you could argue that Mexico would have had a better fate with Vela, Dos Santos and Guardado in tow. And surely results may have been better with three Spanish league players on the field.
Mexico committed to Sanchez for four years. His project and plans were based on South Africa, not Beijing. Sacking Sanchez because of the Olympic team's failures could potentially harm the full national team, as a new coach would have roughly three months to prepare for World Cup qualifying. Such preparation is more than just filling out a roster of 20 players and lacing up the boots against a regional foe. That involves identifying players who will help now and in the future, deciding on which players would be best suited for this year's semifinal phase and (if El Tri qualifies) the 2009 final round as well as the World Cup itself, and figuring out what opponents would be best suited for friendlies to help Mexico adequately prepare for each stage of upcoming two-plus years.
That is a huge undertaking for anyone, but it's one that Sanchez has had in mind for nearly 18 months.
Now, Mexico may go out and put three goals on Haiti and advance to Friday's semifinal. Or Haiti could drop 11 players behind the ball and pull out a 0-0 draw. But whatever happens, Sanchez's path to South Africa should not be derailed because the Under-23s could not get it done.