Rafa Marquez gets his revenge, ends Mexico's 'dos a cero' Columbus curse
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Rafa Marquez looked borderline uninterested in the news conference ahead of Mexico's World Cup qualifier against the United States. El Tri's captain rolled his eyes. At times, he stared up at the ceiling. He simply didn't seem keen to be there.
But in the few things of interest Marquez did say, he was adamant that Friday's game represented an "opportunity" to right the wrongs of the past and end the streak of four consecutive 2-0 losses to the United States in Columbus, Ohio. And he achieved that goal, as if the whole narrative of the game had been scripted by the Kaiser de Michoacan himself.
Marquez was sent off in 2009 and endured poor displays in 2001 and 2005, but in what was surely his last World Cup qualifying game for Mexico in a venue that has held a curse over El Tri, the Atlas defender rose for an 89th-minute corner to net the winning goal in the 2-1 victory.
In the celebration, Marquez looked far from disinterested. The whole Mexico team surrounded a player who is called El Patron (The Boss) by teammates, a footballer who is as revered in Mexico as he is despised by U.S. fans. The goal was reminiscent of the one he netted against Argentina in the 2006 World Cup, only this time it brought Mexico a famous victory and changed history.
"After suffering so many defeats [in Columbus against the United States], to have the opportunity to write a new story today has been very important," Marquez said after the game.
"It would be very easy for me maybe to retire after achieving many things," he added. "But I look at the group we have and its capabilities and qualities, and I want to write a new story. I want Mexican football to change."
Back on Tuesday, the former Barcelona player had stated that the nice thing about football is that "it can give you revenge."
"I think the mentality [was the main reason for the victory]," he said. "It was time to take advantage of having so many players in Europe, so much quality to change or create a new story. That's what we set out to do, and step by step we're trying."
U.S. fans and some in the media saw a weakness when 37-year-old Marquez's name appeared on the team sheet. His lack of speed was evident at times, but even aside from the goal, this was vintage Marquez, as if he had rewound the clock from his days at the Nou Camp. Instead of a weak point, Marquez became the fulcrum of Mexico's success.
Marquez started the game at center-back, with coach Juan Carlos Osorio admitting afterward that he adapted his formation and used more of a 4-3-3 when the United States fielded three center-backs. It wasn't long before an injury to Andres Guardado forced the manager into changes and moved Marquez into a midfield role.
In both positions, Marquez demanded the ball, started Mexico's attacks through penetrative passing and was vocal in organizing the team. In essence, he was Mexico's leader. Questions about where the next Marquez is or who Mexico's next leader will be can wait. This was Marquez's night and Nov. 11, 2016, will go down as his game. It was a big performance from a player who, despite his imperfections, has never shirked his responsibilities. He has enjoyed a career to match his talent and, on Friday, was true to his word about writing a new chapter in the story of the U.S.-Mexico rivalry.
"[My body] tells me I have enough gas until Panama," he stated, even breaking into a little bit of a smile. "After that, we'll see."
For now, Mexico fans should enjoy Marquez while he still has some gas left in him.
Tom Marshall covers Liga MX and the Mexican national team for ESPN FC. Twitter: @MexicoWorldCup.