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 By Tom Marshall

Rafa Marquez remains Mexico's go-to guy as El Tri icon targets World Cup

LAS VEGAS -- Mexico captain Rafa Marquez turns 38 on Feb. 13. The defender's national team career passed the 20-year milestone for his country last Sunday and he is eager to become only the third player to ever play in five World Cups.

"If I maintain this form I think I have a great chance," said Marquez in an interview with ESPN's Leon Lecanda in Las Vegas.

"It would be extraordinary to be able to add five World Cups to my career [achievements], I'd be the third player in history to be able to achieve it." 

"I believe [Gianluigi] Buffon is also in the same line, but being part of history would be very important," added Marquez, the only player to captain a team at four World Cups.

"What I would most like, however, is to make collective history with the national team at a World Cup."

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The Michoacan native has clearly put a lot of thought into the possibility of reaching Russia 2018. The really remarkable thing is how Marquez has never been more important to Mexico than he is now.

Wednesday's 1-0 friendly victory over Iceland won't be a game for which Marquez will be remembered, but as the libero in Juan Carlos Osorio's 3-4-3 formation, the Atlas player was so key to starting attacks, switching the play and dictating Mexico's flow that it is difficult to imagine the coach being able to employ the formation without Marquez at its core.

The good news for Mexico fans is that his form is not fading. His goal and performance in the World Cup qualifying victory over the United States were reminders of his status and fans in Las Vegas chanted his name in the fourth minute (Marquez wears the No.4 shirt) of El Tri's victory on Wednesday night.

Marquez obviously lacks pace, and opponents will try to expose him and exploit that, but his experience comes into play in his reading of the game and that also rubs off on his teammates.

"I'm the same person now as when I came into the national team," he said.

"Maybe it is the education that my family gave me that I believe is humility, being able to share my experiences with others, to be able to transmit [things to others], leaving a legacy and being able to give that example so that others can also achieve their dreams."

Rafa Marquez, chasing a fifth World Cup with Mexico, played a part in their friendly win over Iceland on Wednesday.

In recent days, Osorio has praised Marquez by saying it is a "privilege" to work with him, while Mexico's greatest ever player, Hugo Sanchez, has demanded Marquez feature at Russia 2018. 

"Hugo is and will continue to be an idol to me," said the former Barcelona player. "I'm happy to hear he is supporting me in trying to reach a fifth World Cup. When I've dealt with him it's been a very good experience; it'll remain in my memory."

Marquez heads back to Guadalajara from Las Vegas and will be involved in Saturday's Clasico Tapatio when Atlas host Chivas in Estadio Jalisco. World Cup qualifiers, a Confederations Cup and trying to set up a players' union await him in upcoming months.

It seems that while Marquez's days as a player may be dwindling, his importance to Mexican football is growing.

Tom Marshall covers Liga MX and the Mexican national team for ESPN FC. Twitter: @MexicoWorldCup.

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