EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — New York Red Bulls fans gasped in horror in the 55th minute of Mexico’s 2-1 quarterfinal win over Guatemala on Saturday night.
They watched the left shin of Mexican captain and defender Rafa Márquez suffer the full-on impact of the bottom of a cleat belonging to Guatemala midfielder Wilfred Velasquez. The Red Bulls center back, who was playing the same position with Mexico on Saturday night as he does in MLS, writhed in pain on the ground.
“It was a dangerous tackle,” Márquez said. “Luckily nothing serious happened. I feel OK.”
The play, which was sanctioned with a booking, did not stop Márquez from playing the entire 90 minutes for the first time in this Gold Cup tournament. Entering Saturday’s match, he had started in Mexico’s last two games but was substituted to safeguard his injury — a left Achilles heel strain.
“The truth is that I’ve not recovered from it,” confessed Márquez, who indicated he suffered the injury against Cuba. “I continue to have pain, but even in these conditions I’m trying to play through the games. They’re so important that I don’t want to miss them. The pain is still there but it’s a pain that still allows me to play and as long as that’s the case, I will continue to try to play like this.”
The prize for gritting his teeth through the injury is a Gold Cup semifinal berth against Honduras next Wednesday, June 22, in Houston.
“[Honduras are] even more difficult than Guatemala because they’re physically stronger and this will make them more of a complicated opponent,” Márquez said.
After Mexico romped through three group-stage matches, scoring 14 goals and conceding only one, Saturday’s come-from-behind win over Philadelphia Union forward and Guatemalan captain Carlos Ruiz is being hailed as another show of character by a Mexico squad that is missing five players suspended for testing positive for a banned substance.
This time Mexico also had to overcome the consequences of an early defensive lapse which gave Ruiz the chance to put the underdog Guatemalans ahead in the fifth minute. The goal made a Guatemala team that was already set to bunker in against Mexico that much more resolute in its defending.
“The group is strong at the core,” manager José Manuel “Chepo” de la Torre said in his postgame press conference. “It shows that it can overcome any adversity it is faced with. Today we had an adverse score line against a team that was battling. The grass was high, the field was heavy and this complicated things with our possession of the ball and we had to solve all of this. … But the team kept its nerve.”
“A win is great no matter how it comes,” Márquez said. “I believe that continuing to get through [each stage], however it happens, is what counts.”
Additional reporting by Kristel Valencia