Rafael Marquez is the best-known player in the Mexico team. The captain of El Tricolor for the last six years, the central defender is also a mainstay of Spanish league leaders Barcelona and is regarded as one of the finest players in his position in the game today.
In recent weeks, however, the cultured stopper has had to fend off criticism for the red card he received in the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™ qualifying match against USA in February. Anxious to give his side of the story, the Mexico No4 spoke exclusively to FIFA.com about the incident and El Tri's chances of reaching South Africa.
FIFA.com: Rafael, why have you decided to end your silence?
Rafael Marquez: I just thought the time was right. First of all, because I can't go to Mexico this week. I'm suspended and I can't play, but I really wanted to go and support my team-mates. I also think it's unfair that people are trying to pin the blame on me for the bad results we've been having. If you ask me, Mexican football has a deep-rooted problem and that's the cause of the bad patch we've been going through. Our football is stagnating and with everything that's happened, it's time to come right out and say it. If we carry on like this we're all going to pay for it.
What do you mean exactly?
There are a lot of things that are going on and we need to analyse them closely to find out why they're happening. It's almost like we're trying to shoot ourselves in the foot. I'm talking about everyone on the outside of Mexican football. Not everyone, of course, but sometimes the press seem to be trying to outdo each other and publish the most trashy stories to sell more papers. That doesn't help the national team.
What role do the players play in all this?
Sometimes I feel we're being left to fend for ourselves. At the same time, though, I'm aware that it's up to us to put things right and to work with what we've got at the moment. We know we can't afford to put a foot wrong. We need to give it our all and go all out to qualify. Sometimes people forget that we're only at the start and we need to give it everything we have, with all our strong points and defects.
It has been just over a month now since you were sent off against USA. How do you feel about it?
I've calmed done about it now. The first few days were very tough. I made a mistake but I've been going over it in my mind and learning from the experience. I'm focusing on my club at the moment, I'm in good shape, we're still in all three competitions and we've got a good chance of winning them all. Of course, I'm sad that I'm not with the national team right now and that's mainly because I asked permission to travel despite the suspension. I wasn't allowed to go, though.
Some people in Mexico have even questioned your love for the shirt.
Only people who don't know me and who have no idea about feelings in general say things like that. If that were really the case, I'd have turned my back on the national team a long time ago. I'm still proud to represent my country, I love fighting for my country, I've been in every national side from the youth teams up and I'm never going to let Mexico down again. I made a mistake, that's true. I'm an aggressive player and that's one of my flaws, and because of that I get mad and lose control. But I'm learning to channel that energy now. I don't care about negative opinions because they come from people who don't know anything about football.
El Tri have several players in Europe now. Has that helped the team?
People have been saying for a long time that we needed players abroad and now we've got them. Conditions need to change, though, especially the little details.
Despite everything do you think Mexico will be at South Africa 2010?
I've got no doubts about that. Of course, we will. I'm convinced we'll qualify for the World Cup. We have to make the most of the fact that we've got a good generation of young players and that there's some experienced players to back them up.
So are Sven-Goran Eriksson and this group of players the right ones to take El Tri to South Africa?
We have to be ourselves, that's for sure.
What do you think of Costa Rica, Mexico's next opponents?
They're a tough side to play. They've always given us an awful lot of problems, as they showed when they beat us at the Azteca in 2001. We are very strong at home, though. They've been saying that they're going to beat us, but I honestly think it's almost impossible for us to lose in Mexico.
It will be 3am in Barcelona when the game kicks off. Will you be staying up to watch it?
Yes, yes. I've got to watch the game. I've no option but to.
What message do you have for the fans back in Mexico?
They need to trust in us. We need their support more than ever and all I ask of them is that they don't read too much into what certain sections of the media might be saying. They really go over the top. I know we've got magnificent fans and there's bound to be a full house at the Estadio Azteca.
Is there anything you want to add on a personal note?
Yes, of course. I can't guarantee that I'll never get sent off again, but I'll be doing everything in my power to ensure I never let the people of Mexico down again. I've been through a lot and I've learnt things along the way. It was a very tough situation and I can honestly say that I won't let it happen ever again.