In a highly anticipated game between Mexico and World Cup champions Spain, it was only fitting that Rafael Márquez led El Tri against the representative of the country where he forged a successful international career.
New York’s newest Designated Player wore the captain’s armband Wednesday in a 1-1 draw against a Spanish squad replete with former Barcelona teammates, including Carles Puyol and Sergio Busquets, in a match to celebrate Mexico’s 200th anniversary of its independence from Spain.
READ: Recap: MEX 1, ESP 1
After playing with New York against Chicago on Sunday, Márquez was limited to just 57 minutes by Mexico interim head coach Enrique Meza, especially considering that the Red Bulls will again need the Mexican’s service this weekend against the MLS-leading LA Galaxy.
The defender-turned-midfielder didn’t have a particularly eye-catching performance. Mexico lined up in a 4-4-2 formation, with Márquez playing holding midfielder. To contain the five midfielders Vicente del Bosque put on the field for Spain, Márquez hardly went far past the center line and left the linking function to central midfield partner Gerardo Torrado.
Though that was somewhat unexpected considering Mexico have relied on Márquez to initiate their attack in the last few games, it worked Wednesday, as the Mexican’s pinpoint accuracy seemed to abandon him. He did, however, manage to string a few passes and, in the 37th minute, sent a powerful roller towards goal that Iker Casillas miraculously saved.
Where Márquez did excel was off the ball. The player swept the midfield and quelled attacks from Cesc Fábregas and Santi Cazorla, who constantly joined Fernando Llorente up top. Furthermore, Márquez plugged the holes in the defense, basically giving Mexico a back line of five when Spain looked to threaten.
It didn’t seem like Márquez was impacting the game much – until he came out near the hour mark. As soon as he left the pitch, Spain piled on the pressure and David Silva eventually netted the last-gasp equalizer in second-half stoppage time from a picture-perfect pass from Xavi, who came on in the 61st minute.
For both the Mexican National Team and especially the New York Red Bulls, who receive one of MLS’ top scoring teams on Saturday, the fact that Márquez can shore up the defense so well from his midfield spot has got to be a comforting feeling moving forward.