If there was ever going to be a player to end Mexico’s nightmare in Columbus, Ohio, it was going to be Rafael Marquez of course.
An original member of the Dos a Cero chronicles that began to be written in 2001, Marquez had suffered plenty in the quadrennial match at Mapfre Stadium between Mexico and the U.S. Men’s National Team. He had endured the frustrating losses over the years, been booed vehemently and called all types of names, and even made to be the villain by El Tri’s own supporters for getting a red card once.
Yes, Columbus might have been Mexico’s house of horrors, but it was Marquez’s hell. That is, until Friday.
Marquez gave Mexicans everywhere the feeling they have been searching 15 years for by scoring an 89th-minute winner in a historic 2-1 victory on the road vs. the U.S. in a CONCACAF World Cup Qualifier. The 37-year-old midfielder used his experience, savvy, and skill to make the difference with a flicked header at the near post that looped perfectly into the back of the net.
Just like that, the demons that have haunted him for the better part of two decades vanished. Mexico went on the beat the Americans in Columbus. The string of four consecutive 2-0 wins for the U.S. was no more.
“It was a new opportunity for me, for all of us to write a new story, and we did that” said Marquez. “It had been a long time without a win here, with the cold, the difficulties, and the opponent, too. I’m happy to have had a good performance and to pick up three points.”
That the game-winning goal came in what will surely be his final trip to Mapfre Stadium made it all the more sweet. Marquez had been on the field for three of the defeats that Mexico suffered there to its rivals over the past decade-and-a-half, and it was fitting that he was the player who broke the curse in his first game in Columbus since getting ejected in the 2009 edition.
Being the hero on Friday also helped make up for his role in conceding an equalizer to the Americans on Friday. Marquez was unable to cover enough ground to help deny Bobby Wood’s tying goal in the 49th minute, as the Mexican’s diminished pace gave the U.S. free space down the middle of the field to exploit.
Marquez did not get caught out like that again, a testament to his veteran guile and positioning. He also helped moved the ball well when El Tri was in possession, circulating it to dynamic attackers like Giovani dos Santos, Carlos Vela, and the author of the first goal, Miguel Layun.
The 90-minute performance from the wily Marquez was better than that of American counterparts Michael Bradley and Jermaine Jones, and the Mexican was pleased to have brought joy and satisfaction to compatriots all over the world. That includes those that reside in the United States who went against Donald Trump only to see him voted president of the country.
“I think it’s important,” Marquez told ESPN. “I think it’s important because we’re giving happiness in a moment of uncertainty that they’re going through. This could maybe distance them from that uncertainty.”
What made this night even more special for Mexico fans and Marquez alike was that his decisive goal came on a set piece. It has been the U.S. that has been the better team in dead-ball situations in this rivalry, especially in the last two decades, but Marquez showed that he too can be lethal in the air by taking full advantage of lax marking with a clinical finish.
The goal may have given Mexico three points, but it maybe just as importantly laid a foundation for the future. No longer will being victorious in Columbus seem like a long shot, and you can thank Marquez for that.
“Right now we are very happy,” said Marquez. “It’s very important for us.”