As we look at it now, 5 February 1997 was the beginning of an era for Mexican football. What no one knew at the time was that when a young midfielder, a week shy of his 18th birthday, entered the fray on the hour mark it would go on to define El Tri’s next two decades.
Now 38, Rafael Marquez’s appearance last night for Mexico against Costa Rica, in a 2-0 win to send them top of CONCACAF’s hexagonal qualifying group for 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia™, marked 20 years of wearing the green of his country.
"It's a source of pride [to work with Marquez] because life has rewarded me by having players at club level at the end of their careers,” said Mexico coach Juan Carlos Osorio, who has taken charge of the likes of Peter Schmeichel, Claudio Reyna, Steve McManaman and Paulo Wanchope in his time. “But I've not seen anyone at the level of Rafael at national team level."
Having been precociously given the captain’s armband as a 23-year-old ahead of his first World Cup at Korea/Japan 2002, he has gone to lead out his side at three more to date. He can also boast having lifted the FIFA Confederations Cup in 1999, as well as two CONCACAF Gold Cups, during 137 appearances for his country, as well as scoring 17 goals in the process.
Mexico sit on seven points from three games in CONCACAF qualifying on the road to Russia, four points inside the automatic places with seven matches remaining. Their next game is against Trinidad and Tobago on 28 March.
*Did you know *His first call-up to the Mexico side was in fact an error, as then-coach Bora Milutinovic had instead wanted to include his Atlas team-mate Cesar Marquez in the squad. The oversight was eventual pinned on the person in charge of making the official announcement.
Should he reach Russia 2018, Marquez will draw level with compatriot Antonio Carbajal and Germany legend Lothar Matthaus for having appeared at a record number of World Cup finals, with five the current record.