Many fans of El Tri will fondly recall the 2004 Copa America in Peru. Well, the group stages at least. After manager Ricardo LaVolpe refused to even call up star striker Cuauhtemoc Blanco, he still managed to field a youthful and exciting team that exceeded expectations. Mexico tied Uruguay 2:2 in the opening game and that set the tone for a solid tournament. Both of Mexico's goals in the opening draw were spectacular efforts to boot: first, Ricardo Osorio's cross-cum-shot from the right flank flew over the Uruguayan goalie and into the far post. Second, Pavel Pardo's piledriver from thirty yards out whistled into the far left corner and gave Mexico an ever so brief lead.
Opening with a draw meant that Mexico could lose the second game to favorite Argentina, hope to beat Ecuador in the very last game, and still advance. Instead, El Tri pulled off an upset for the ages: with lots of hard running by Gerardo Torrado and even fiercer tackling by Rafa Marquez, Mexico shut out Argentina and won 1-0 with a gem of a free-kick goal from Ramon Morales. Argentina was in shock, and a very small group of Mexpats back in Argentina stormed the Obelisco in downtown Buenos Aires to celebrate like it was New Year's.
The objective then became to win the very last game and the group, and in theory get an easier match-up in the quarterfinals. Mexico beat Ecuador, 2-1 and topped the group, but then came the twist: Brazil got second in their group, behind Paraguay. That meant Mexico would face five-time World Cup champions Brazil. And, sadly for Mexico players, they got spanked 4-0. Still, one bad loss does not undo a solid tournament, and many of these players formed the nuceleus for El Tri's 2006 World Cup run in Germany.
Twelve years later, here's where some of the bigger names are now:
Sanchez was the man between the nets for Mexico and Chivas for almost a decade. He actually started his career at Atlas, then enjoyed a brief stint at Club America, before donning the red-and-white stripes of C.D. Guadalajara. He won the 2006 Apertura with Chivas, shortly after Jorge Vergara bought the club and a few years before things went south.
Sanchez actually won more silverware after leaving Chivas late in his career and linking up with Santos Laguna. In Torreon, he won two Liga MX titles and a Copa MX crown. He appeared in 99 matches for El Tri and started every game at the 2006 World Cup. He retired in 2014 and said he plans on "staying in the game," but thus far has not been linked as a coach or assistant with any club.
Osorio started his career playing for Cruz Azul Hidalgo and then Cruz Azul. He preferred to play center back, but can operate on the right flank as well. In 2004, he played a key role in El Tri's run and, two years, later, had a very good World Cup tournament at Germany 2006. Long before Chicharito tore up the nets with Bayer Leverkusen, Osorio signed for Stuttgart, became a key player, and won the Bundesliga.
A beast in the air, Osorio also started and played in each game for Mexico at the 2010 World Cup. However, while he has not officially retired, his last appearance for El Tri was a sad one: his mistake in the Round of 16 game in South Africa vs. Argentina allowed Gonzalo Higuain to score for El Albiceleste. And the rest said about that game, the better.
At the ripe old age of 36, Ricardo Osorio is still kicking it and plays for Monterrey in Liga MX.
Not since Hugo Sanchez had a Mexican player taken Europe by storm like Marquez. "Rafa" played a key role in the Frank Rijkaard revival at FC Barcelona: his fantastic range of passing and ability to boot long and accurate diagonals was a key feature of a club team that won the Champions League in 2006 and various La Liga titles.
Rafa, along with Osorio, formed a strong center back pairing for the 2004 Copa America and got a clean sheet against a dangerous Argentina side in their group-stage game. Rafa has appeared in four World Cups for Mexico, also played in Italy, and currently suits up for Atlas. Aside from a poor spell in MLS and his very last season in Serie A, he's been a rock at the back for club and country.
Despite being 37 years old, there's no hint of him retiring anytime soon.