MEXICO CITY, April 1 (Reuters) - Mexico fired coach Hugo Sanchez on Monday after only 16 months in the job, the Mexico Football Federation (FMF) said.
The former Real Madrid striker, widely regarded as the finest player Mexico has produced, was sacked two weeks after the under-23 team, which he also coaches, failed to qualify for the Beijing Olympics.
The FMF said the decision had been taken by a meeting of the federation's executive committee, which is made up of the presidents of the 18 first division clubs.
'By a unanimous decision, the contractual relationship with the technical staff of the national team has been ended,' FMF general secretary Decio de Maria told a news conference.
De Maria said that Jesus Ramirez, who coached the Mexico team which won the World Under-17 championship in Peru in 2005, would take over on an interim basis for next month's friendly against China in the United States.
Mexican media have identified a list of possible long-term replacements, including Brazilian Luiz Felipe Scolari, currently with Portugal, Argentine Jose Pekerman and Italy's 2006 World Cup winning coach Marcelo Lippi.
Sanchez, appointed in November 2006 after lobbying intensively for the job for years, was in charge for 23 full internationals, winning 12, drawing three and losing eight.
However, it was the Olympic team's failure which proved his downfall as Mexico were knocked out in the first stage of the CONCACAF qualifying tournament after finishing third behind Canada and Guatemala in their group.
With Mexico's first matches in the 2010 World Cup qualifying competition only three months away, FMF president Justino Compean said he did not want to risk any more failures.
'We want winners and leaders, we cannot accept another failure,' he said. 'If you thought this was difficult, can you imagine Mexico not being in South Africa.'
Even before the Olympic debacle, Sanchez had been under fire following the full international side's performance at the CONCACAF Gold Cup last year.
Despite reaching the final, where they lost 2-1 to hosts United States, Mexico struggled to one-goal wins over Cuba, Panama and Guadeloupe and lost to Honduras.
They produced a much-improved performance at the Copa America in Venezuela shortly afterwards, beating Brazil 2-0 and thumping Paraguay 6-0 on their way to the semi-finals where they lost to a Lionel Messi-inspired Argentina.
As a player, Sanchez finished as top-scorer in the Spanish league five times -- four of them with Real Madrid -- and played at the 1978, 1986 and 1994 World Cups.
He was famous for his somersaulting goal celebrations.
As a coach, he won two successive Mexican titles with Pumas UNAM but, even then, had alienated many people with his outspoken comments.