Rafa Marquez closing in on spot with Mexico’s World Cup squad

Clapping Rafa Marquez
Rafa Marquez could captain Mexico at a fifth World Cup.

Mexico’s Rafa Marquez is closing in on his fifth World Cup, with his lawyer indicating there are no legal barriers to the 39-year-old appearing at Russia 2018 and coach Juan Carlos Osorio keen to include him in the squad.

Marquez had been an integral part of Osorio’s reign in charge until the U.S. Treasury Department sanctioned him for alleged links to a drug trafficking organization last August.

The former Barcelona defender immediately stopped playing for his club, Atlas, and hasn’t featured for Mexico since the 2017 Confederations Cup. But he has started 15 games for Atlas in Liga MX since returning on Oct. 29, including nine matches this year.

“It’s step by step, the [legal] actions before the U.S. authorities are advancing,” Marquez’s lawyer Jose Luis Nassar told ESPN on Monday. “Rafa has no impediment to stop him going to play with the Mexican national team.”

Marquez would become the first player to captain a national team at five different World Cups, should he wear the armband in any of Mexico’s games.

The Zamora, Michoacan, native hasn’t been in his best form of late, but with three games left in the 2018 Clausura regular season and Atlas out of the playoff reckoning, Osorio wants to give Marquez every chance to prove himself worthy of a place in the squad.

“There is a saying in Spain: You tell me who your central midfielder is and I’ll tell you what kind of football you try to play,” Osorio said told ESPN’s Max and Herc Podcast. “So I think with Rafa we’d have somebody who can distribute the ball really well. That’s something that we missed … with the national team.

“Now, we don’t see him as a central defender anymore. We think because of pace and age he should be moving further up the pitch. But as a central midfielder and if he is in top form, I think it would be very difficult to leave him out.”

Osorio suggested last week that Marquez could attend the World Cup as part of his coaching staff if he does not get in the squad as a player, but said he hadn’t discussed that with the Atlas captain.

Atlas and Marquez play Queretaro and Chivas at home and then Pachuca away before Osorio announces his World Cup squad pool in May. It has been widely reported that the games will be Marquez’s last club matches before retirement, with the player hoping to finish his career at the World Cup.

Tom Marshall covers Liga MX and the Mexican national team for ESPN FC. Twitter: @MexicoWorldCup.