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Tom Marshall: Acid test for Club Tijuana against Corinthians

Despite its geographically separation from the Mexican heartland, in just over five years since its formation, Club Tijuana has forged an identity that the many Liga MX clubs look up to in awe.

Closer to Portland, Oregon that its nearest Liga MX road game in Torreon, Club Tijuana has been breaking down barriers, and borders.

The northern club has firmly established itself as a major player in Mexico, as seen by last season’s championship, has gained publicity in the United States that certain MLS clubs would be proud of and is now slowly making waves south of Mexico, too.

But it may not be an exaggeration to suggest that perhaps the biggest test of the club’s short history lies comes over the next seven days when Xolos play home and away against Club World Cup and Copa Libertadores champion Corinthians.

Many have previously doubted Club Tijuana’s ability to overcome such hurdles and there is no doubt that the Brazilian team is the real deal.

“We want to win because it’s going to be an historic game,” acknowledged coach Antonio Mohamed.  

Since the second division days, the tricky first season in the Liga MX and the run to last season’s championship, there have been plenty of historic occasions recently for the club, but rarely have the players been overcome by the occasion.

“Corinthians is world champion, it is a great team, but we depend on ourselves,” said Argentine midfielder Cristian Pellerano in the build up to the game. “No matter what the name of the rival, we have to be prepared for the duel.”

Although Pellerano is a relative newcomer to the Tijuana success story, his statement could’ve come from the president or any of the players. Tijuana has shown little respect for big name rivals since its arrival in the Liga MX.

Few would’ve predicted it a couple of years ago, but one of Tijuana’s major challenges Wednesday is finding a way to stop Alexandre Pato and he doesn’t exactly seem to be enthralled to be traveling to Tijuana.

“We have to be focused because we are going to play on a synthetic pitch,” Pato told journalists in Mexico City en route to Tijuana. “It’s the second time I’m playing on a synthetic pitch and it is very difficult.”

The fact Xolos play on synthetic turf is a major advantage in the Libertadores, but the refreshing breeze of the Tijuana hierarchy not being afraid to say that the world’s second most important club competition is the priority makes it all the more important that the Liga MX club makes a mark.

The reality of Group 5 in the Copa Libertadores means a victory on Wednesday in the Estadio Caliente would go a long way to helping Tijuana progress to the next round. Zero points over the next week would open the door for Colombian champion Millonarios to close the gap in the next game away at Bolivia’s San Jose and then at home against Corinthians.

“An unbeatable occasion to make more HISTORY,” read the official press release on Tuesday evening previewing the game. “Yes, it is written in capitals.”

Tijuana’s short history so far may as well have been written in capitals. Success over the next week and into the knockout rounds of the Copa Libertadores would present help strengthen its blueprint for other Liga MX clubs to follow in forging an identity outside of Mexico’s borders.

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