The national teams of Mexico and the US have developed the biggest rivalry in the CONCACAF. When they meet on the field, everything stops in North American soccer. The captain and top player is Rafael Márquez, a center defender who has become one of the World’s best at his position. His quality and great technique shined in the 2002 World Cup. A year later, he made the big jump, becoming the first Mexican player signed by FC Barcelona, where he still plays.
How did you get started in the game?
It comes from my family. As every Mexican kid I followed this great sport. I played with my friends, saw the games… I was very lucky to live close to it at home, because my father played professionally at a very high level. He played for several top clubs, including Monterrey of Mexico’s First Division.
Tell us about going to play internationally for the first time, when you were signed by Monaco of France’s top league.
When you are competing at a prime level on you always look up to Europe. Currently, all the star soccer players in the World end up in Europe. For me making that big jump was a dream come true. It was a challenge, and when Monaco signed me I was able to achieve it. It was very important, a huge step on my career.
Then you moved forward, becoming an FC Barcelona player…
That was achieving the next challenge I had marked on my career. I was fine in Monaco, but I wanted to go to one of the very top clubs in Europe, one that would have the chance every season to win it all, to become the number one team in the World. Barça gave me that opportunity.
In 2006, you won the Champions League with FC Barcelona
and Mexico got to the eighth-of-finals round in the World Cup. Was that
year the best of your career?
Yes, I think it was, because winning it all at the club level and reaching that far in the World Cup does not happen to every body. Anyhow, I still have the sorrow feeling of being eliminated in the World Cup by Argentina. We came very close to advance to the next round, but lost. In general, though, I think it was a great year.
That game against Argentina was one of the best in the
World Cup. You scored to give your country the lead. Mexico played
head-to-head against one of the best teams in the World, and ended
loosing in overtime. How many times have you thought about that game?
Many times for sure, in fact I still think about it. It was our best game and it was very sad to loose, considering the great soccer we orchestrated that day. I really believe, talking strictly about how both teams played, that we should had advanced to the quarter finals.
Mexico’s National Team is very famous for how its
members play together, establishing a very strong group. How have you
I think feeling proud about being Mexican and representing our country. We are all proud of wearing that green shirt. The love we have for Mexico, our country, is very high.
In the last 15 years, both Mexico and the US have
improved a lot in the World Cup, but have not advanced beyond the
quarter finals. How much time would it take to see a CONCACAF team
reaching the semi-finals?
I think the chances of having a CONCACAF team in the semi-finals are real. Once the elimination round of the World Cup arrives, all the teams left are very evenly matched. I think there are teams in CONCACAF with a high-enough level of soccer to reach the semi-finals, and I believe Mexico is one of them.
Another one is the United States. You have faced the US
many times. How much do you think its overall level of soccer has
improved in the last years?
For several years, there were conversations about the evolution of soccer in the United Status, but now I believe it is for real. Having US players in the best European leagues has helped the individual and general soccer level of the country. I think the US has a very solid and competitive national team that plays well as a group.
What do you think about the MLS?
I think it is a league on the rise. It has improved a lot in the past few years. Signing more European stars could help in making it more competitive and more entertaining to watch. Overall, I believe the level of play has become very high.
Would you see yourself playing for an MLS team in the future, maybe Seattle?
You never know what could happen in the future, but of course a day could come in which I end up playing at the MLS. I think it would be a very interesting experience. It is not something I am pursuing in the short term, but maybe there is a possibility in the long run, why not?