Antonio Mohamed knew the task at hand when he took over for the fired Joaquin del Olmo as Club Tijuana Xoloitzcuintles' coach in September.
The Argentine-born coach knew that he was hired to take a struggling team, flirting with relegation to the Second Division. There was a lot of work to be done to try and inject energy into a team that could hardly score. Mohamed understood it was not an easy task.
It didn't get any easier as he entered his first match as the Xolos coach. It was a game against one of Mexico's most storied, rich and powerful franchises in one of the World's most notable stadiums.
Mohamed was to lead the Xolos into Estadio Azteca and make his mark as the new coach against Club America, one of Mexico's most popular clubs.
And Mohamed nearly pulled off a magical task. His new team lead the match for 85 minutes after Javier Jacuzzi scored 10 seconds into the match. A few touches after kickoff and the Xolos led Club America 1-0. But Tijuana couldn't hold on to the lead. America's Christian Benitez tied the match in the 86th minute when he got behind the Xolos defense on a free kick. He sent a shot into Xolos goalkeeper Cirilo Saucedo's legs. Saucedo, diving onto his back, couldn't hold on to the ball as his momentum took the ball across the goal line.
Mohamed's first match as coach of the Xolos would end with a 1-1 draw.
The Mohamed era had begun.
Mohamed and the Xolos return to Estadio Azteca to face Club America Saturday in a 2012 Apertura Week 6 match up.
Tijuana has escaped relegation, has found ways to score, has developed into one of the league's best defenses and has become a legitimate contender under Mohamed since that September afternoon that ended in a tie.
Mohamed has led the Xolos to a playoff berth in the last tournament and has the team in the No. 3 team in the league with 10 points after five games. America comes into Saturday's match with nine points and one spot behind the Xolos in the standings.
All things point to another interesting match.
"I think it will be an open game," said Xolos midfielder Fernando Arce. "We know America's coach (Miguel Herrera) and he never sends his teams back. He likes open games. Tijuana will try to be smart and try to provoke (America) to be open and be off guard. We will not stand back. We play depending on the rival, always looking to find the opposition's weak side and attack that."
The Xolos (3-1-1), who are coming off a 2-1 home win against Tigres UANL last week, has had a solid outing from its attack this tournament, particularly from its midfield. Arce is the team's leading scorer with three goals, all of them coming off free kicks. Arce has been an integral part of the attack, always creating spaces and giving attackers a chance to find shots at goal.
"I think our midfield has worked up to par," Arce said. "The team is also well organized defensively. It's not that I don't drop back to defend, but it's that I try to move into the rival's territory and look for a rebound. We will keep working our stopped ball (free kicks)."
And Mohamed will continue to work to keep the Xolos near the top of the standings. He will also be looking to give Tijuana its first win against America (2-0-3), which is coming off a 4-0 win against Queretaro last week .
Both teams have met one more time other than the 1-1 draw in Mohamed's Tijuana coaching debut.
The Xolos saved a point against America in March when Divier Riascos scored in the 65th minute at Estadio Caliente. It was Club America's Raul Jimenez had given "Las Aguilas" a 1-0 lead just a minute before Riasco's tied the match. It was the first time Tijuana hosted Club America in the First Division.