As the competition for soccer’s World Cup begins this week in Russia, the Los Angeles Times profiles Rafael Marquez, Mexico’s team captain and a legendary defender. Marquez, a four-time World Cup veteran, was sanctioned by the U.S. Treasury Department last year for allegedly aiding a powerful Mexican drug trafficker. His bank accounts were frozen in the U.S. and Mexico and he was placed on a blacklist that bans Americans and U.S.-based companies from doing business with him. The sanctions also bar him from playing in the United States. Marquez, 39, has denied allegations that he and two associates used several businesses to hold assets for Raul Flores Hernandez, a drug lord allied with the notorious Sinaloa and Jalisco New Generation drug cartels. But some say it is unseemly for Mexico, plagued by corruption and drug violence, to employ a player accused of laundering cash for a drug kingpin.
For the most part, though, Mexicans have embraced Marquez, who is poised to become one of only a handful of players to play in five World Cups on Sunday when Mexico takes on Germany in its first match. At Mexico’s presidential palace two weeks ago, Marquez personally presented one of the team’s green World Cup jerseys to President Enrique Peña Nieto — who himself has been accused by Mexican journalists of corruption. Supporters of Marquez emphasize that he has not been convicted of any crime — or even charged — and should not be prematurely penalized. “Rafa is the soul of the national team, and if he is in trouble with the United States, we don’t care,” said Armando Diaz, a 43-year-old salesman in Mexico City.