RECIFE, BRAZIL – One of the first things Miguel Herrera did when he became Mexico’s fourth coach in a year was call Rafael Marquez and ask the 35-year-old defender known as “The Boss” to return to the national side as captain.
On Monday, the world saw why.
Marquez’s pivotal goal from a header in the 72nd minute ignited a scoring burst, and Mexico surged into the World Cup’s knockout stage for a sixth straight time with a 3-1 triumph over Croatia.
“I did not hesitate one minute after my talk with him to appoint him captain,” Herrera said of Marquez, now in his fourth World Cup. “He’s had many achievements in his career, personally, but he’s also provided leadership to the team, that soundness, and that is why they call him ‘The Boss.’ ”
Marquez, Andres Guardado and Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez scored in a 10-minute span in the second half, dooming a talented Croatia side to elimination from the group stage.
The Croats had to win to advance and held the bulk of possession, but had trouble seriously threatening goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa, who kept out all efforts until an 87th-minute consolation goal from Ivan Perisic.
Mexico entered the game needing only a draw, but played aggressively and looked dangerous in attack even before breaking through. The result gave Mexico a second-place finish behind Brazil in Group A and set up a second-round meeting with Group B winner the Netherlands.
“We overcame the first hurdle,” Miguel Herrera said, adding that the team would dine with their families in Recife later Monday night. “We’re going to celebrate tonight but tomorrow we have to start thinking of our match with the Netherlands.”
Marquez, who had scored in Germany in 2006 and South Africa four years ago, made it three straight World Cups with a goal by beating Croatia defender Vedran Corluka to head home Hector Herrera’s corner.
“They wanted him to retire, and look at him,” Guardado said. “He plays like he’s 23″
Three minutes later, Guardado found the net with a hard, left-footed, one-time shot after a cross from Oribe Peralta.
Then in the 82nd, Hernandez, the popular Manchester United striker who has been a second-half substitute in all three of Mexico’s matches, scored with a header after Herrera’s corner had glanced off the head of Marquez.
Villa scores in farewell
Curitiba Brazil AP
David Villa marked his last appearance for Spain much like most of his previous ones — with a goal.
Villa opened the scoring Monday with his record 59th goal as the 2010 World Cup champion beat Australia 3-0 to avoid finishing last in Group B.
The striker marked his lone appearance in Brazil by deftly guiding Juanfran Torres’ cross home with the inside of his right heel after 36 minutes.
Villa was overcome by emotion after being replaced in the 57th, burying his head in his hands. Not to shield his face from the blazing afternoon sun, but to reflect on an international career in which he played a key role in Spain’s consecutive European Championship victories and maiden World Cup triumph.
“I thought about everything (the team has) given me, every day I had the luck and privilege to be here,” Villa said. “To play for the Spanish team, from the very first day, has always been a great pleasure.”
Villa, 32, has been an instrumental figure in Spain’s rise since helping the country win Euro 2008, proving to be a versatile striker with the ability to slide into Spain’s possession-based, combination soccer with ease.
Villa surpassed Raul Gonzalez’s former mark of 44 goals for Spain to claim the record mark, which he began chipping away at with his debut in 2005.
“It would be an honor for me to be surpassed by someone because I will always be a part of the story of this team,” Villa said. “Obviously it would be great for the team if another or others score more goals for the team.”
Fernando Torres and Juan Mata also scored in the win for the 2010 champions.