Rafael Marquez keeps making a difference on the pitch. He opened the score in Mexico's 3-1 victory against Croatia and will lead El Tri in the round of 16, where the team will face the Netherlands.
So far, Miguel Herrera's side has amazed. They won their first match 1-0, after the linesman disallowed two goals, which were legal.
Next, they faced Brazil and with a fantastic display by Guillermo Ochoa, El Tri left Fortaleza with a scoreless draw.
Their last game was key because they convinced in every line. The defense was solid, the midfield was fluid and the attack was overwhelming.
Marquez has been involved in every third of the pitch.
Herrera has played with a 5-3-2 formation since he took over El Tri. In the back line, Marquez has been the leader, taking over the center of the box.
His experience earned him the captain's armband for the fourth consecutive World Cup, becoming the first footballer to achieve the feat.
Marquez's fine touch derived in 78 percent of pass effectiveness during the group stage, according to advanced stats site Squawka.com. He has recovered 22 balls (nine against Cameroon, eight with Brazil and five versus Croatia), as reported by FIFA.com.
His leadership skills have helped Mexico keep the structure in the back, especially in set pieces, which had been so dreadful for the team.
Marquez has successfully helped Jose Juan Vazquez, who has played as El Tri's sole central midfielder during the group stage.
Rafa has come down to support him when in distress, like it happened against Brazil, but has also allowed El Gallito to play with more freedom, for instance versus Cameroon.
Marquez can become a libero easily, leaving Javier Rodriguez and Hector Moreno on the back, as a two-man line.
By putting the captain in that position, Herrera earns a sweeper who can read the plays quicker and who can act as a filter between the midfield and the defense.
If there's more space, Marquez can also play as a second defensive midfielder, showing his talent and flexibility.
As time has passed, Marquez has been a fruitful addition to the attacking zone in set pieces.
He has a powerful long-distance shot, which he has shown in free-kicks, and a fantastic aerial game, which comes in handy in any type of set piece.
Marquez is just the second Mexican footballer to score in three different World Cups, along with CuauhtemocBlanco. Rafa put the ball away in Germany 2006 (vs. Argentina), South Africa 2010 (vs. the host) and Brazil 2014 (vs. Croatia).
In his 17-year span playing for El Tri, Marquez has scored 15 goals. In this department, 2014 has been his most successful year, as he has put the ball away twice in eight appearances.
Against Croatia, Marquez assisted Javier Hernandez, who bagged Mexico's third goal and his first one since the 2013 Confederations Cup.
It is important to note that when Rafa moves forward, he creates spaces and starts feeding balls, which impacts the team's verticality and pace.
There is no doubt that Marquez is one of the most complete players on Herrera's squad. He will be instrumental in trying to stop ArjenRobben, who has been one of the fastest players so far.
FIFA.com reported that his top speed against Spain was of 31.03 km/h, the fastest man of his team, and second-fastest on the pitch.
Another area where Marquez must be atop will be in the center of the pitch, because Vazquez will miss the round-of-16 game as he has two yellow cards.
Herrera has several options for this position, like Andres Guardado and Carlos Salcido, but since none of them play there on a regular basis, Rafa will be a factor.
All advanced statistics appear courtesy of ESPNFC.com, unless otherwise noted.
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