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The difficulties of Rafa Marquez on Mexico’s World Cup squad amid U.S. blacklist designation for alleged drug trafficking ties

June 27, 2018  |  Posted by: Francesca Falzarano
The difficulties of Rafa Marquez on Mexico’s World Cup squad amid U.S. blacklist designation for alleged drug trafficking ties

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The shine radiating off the Mexican national soccer team is currently at its brightest. The massive opening-game win over defending champions Germany followed by the victory over South Korea made El Tri one of the World Cup’s biggest talking points.

This tournament always had the ability to be an important one for Mexico. The focus of the team has continued to be consistent, and the team of players that led them to the last 16 in Brazil four years ago is now experienced and cohesive.

Even manager Juan Carlos Osorio, who was booed in the send-off victory over Scotland, is now being viewed in a different light.

The inclusion of Rafael ‘Rafa’ Marquez in Mexico’s World Cup team should have been a reason to celebrate. The 39-year-old’s physical condition was indeed up for dispute – not least as he’d played his final game for Atlas in April – but his leadership abilities were not in doubt.

Marquez has become the third player to participate in five World Cups. When the players walked out onto the field for the final 16 minutes of the Germany game and was given the captain’s armband, he increased his record, leading his country in five World Cups.

Rafa Marquez is the most iconic player to ever play for Mexico. His days of playing for one of the biggest clubs in world football, FC Barcelona made him a star, and his important role over the years with El Tri made him a legend.

However, there was no celebration when Marquez joined the team for his fifth World Cup. He didn’t take part in Mexico’s warm-up game in the U.S. against Wales. He didn’t travel with the squad because he cannot legally enter the United States.

Last year, the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control assigned Marquez and 20 others on a sanctions list for having ties to a drug trafficking group headed by reputed Mexican kingpin Raul Flores Hernandez.

Some of Marquez’s business interests were reportedly used to funnel cash for cartel operations. His assets were frozen, his visa was revoked, and his reputation has been in tatters ever since.

Rafa Marquez has rejected any wrongdoing and hasn’t been charged, but recently pondered on the difficulties he’s encountered since the accusations surfaced.

The Raul Flores Hernandez organization and its alleged members.US Treasury/Office of Foreign Assets Control

“It was a tough blow,” Marquez said in an interview with ESPN. “A lot of people don’t realize, or don’t know. The truth is I don’t regret anything because I am no criminal; I’ve not done anything against the law.”

Marquez dresses differently to his team-mates, he drinks from different water bottles and is not permitted to give interviews near a logo-filled backdrop. He also can’t fraternize with U.S. FIFA staff.

It’s often said that Mexico’s team is the most popular in two countries. The U.S., with its significant Mexican-American community, claims massive attendance numbers for the numerous international games hosted in NFL stadiums around the nation, along with huge TV viewership ratings coming from their neighbors.

Mexican national team apparel is regularly sponsored with a host of U.S. companies

However, Marquez’s inclusion on the Specially Designated Nationals list guarantees that he will be sporting more of a minimalist look. The usual logos on everything El Tri is not seen on his jersey – U.S. companies are not allowed to conduct any transaction with organizations or people placed on the OFAC list.

The New York Times reported that Mexico’s $1.5 million dollar fee from FIFA for participating in the World Cup has had to be sent through European banks with no ties to the U.S.

Rafa Marquez has also accepted that he won’t receive any money for his participation.

The influence on the team as a whole has been minimal. Marquez’s calm and collected performance in the final moments of Mexico’s opening game, in the face of a relentless German attack, has once again shown El Kaiser’s value to his team.

He has the support of his manager and fellow players – the 39-year-old is not only a legend to the people of Mexico but also to his colleagues, many of whom point to him as the player they looked up to when they were younger.

Osorio’s determination and use of a player past his prime provides evidence for what many have long believed about Rafa Marquez. There have been many players considered to be the next Rafa, but no Mexican has come close to meeting his ability to control a game.

Mexico is one of few teams that can brag about qualifying for each World Cup held since 1994 and pushing out of the group stage every time. However, as far as World Cup success, they have lost in the last 16 of the previous six World Cups.

“I dream about making history with the team,” Marquez said in the ESPN interview. “It’s been a thorn in the side that in four opportunities we’ve not been able to achieve it. This is the moment, it’s the present. We can’t wait four more years to make history.”

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