Soccer: Little Marco's magic touch

By Michael Burgess in Los Angeles

Marco Rojas, middle, says he might need to teach his teammates a few Spanish phrases. Photo / Getty Images
Marco Rojas, middle, says he might need to teach his teammates a few Spanish phrases. Photo / Getty Images

Bienvenidos 'El Marcito'. His recent lack of match play means he may not even take the field on Thursday but Marco Rojas is already 'world famous' in Mexico.

He's talented, sure, and one of the few New Zealanders to be playing in a top professional league but the interest in Rojas also comes because se habla espanol. Though born and raised in New Zealand, and never having taken formal lessons, there was enough Spanish spoken in the Rojas household to pick it up.

Yesterday Rojas, who admitted match fitness could be a problem and he didn't expect to start at the Azteca - was besieged at the team hotel in Los Angeles after training. Initially there were to be no one on one interviews with the VFB Stuttgart player but Rojas was grabbed on arrival, and completed more than half a dozen interviews with the biggest television networks from Mexico and the United States, as well as the mandatory group media scrum.

"Your Spanish is good, Marco, muy bien, muy bien," remarked one enthusiastic Mexican reporter.

"You need to teach your team-mates something - no?."

It's might be too late for that, but last night the softly spoken Rojas was beamed into millions of Mexican and North American homes.

"I've never been the one to always want to do this stuff," says Rojas, who is always friendly but media shy. "Hopefully my Spanish is good enough that it can pass."

It needed to be. Rojas was grilled on a whole range of subjects from his Chilean-Kiwi upbringing to his knowledge of Mexican culture and food.

"I'm sure my family will be proud," added Rojas on the multi lingual demands. "It's not easy for me because I haven't learnt it properly."

Demands will only increase in Mexico, both from media and his anglophone colleagues.

"I might just hide in my room and lock the door," jokes Rojas. "Maybe I should have bought a couple of phrasebooks and handed them out."

"We already call him 'El Marcito' (little Marco)," said another reporter, "El tiene magia (he's got magic)."

Like the rest of his side, Rojas looks forward to the Azteca with an equal mix of fear and fascination.

"It will be special," says Rojas. "Everyone who knows football knows the Azteca. But there is still belief, everyone writes us off and we are always playing against teams that are expected to win. Look at what [the All Whites] did at the World Cup - we are going in with that mentality."

The scale of media interest in this fixture grows by the day. There were a dozen camera crews present yesterday, from the big Hispanic and Mexican networks (as well as ESPN), channels that measure their viewership in tens of millions.

It's pure football fever. Suddenly there is high interest in Phoenix striker Jeremy Brockie while Tommy Smith spent nearly an hour fulfilling media obligations.

In Mexico City the reporters will number in the hundreds and there are already some concerns about how long the All Whites will take to get out of the airport, when they arrive just after 11pm Monday night (6pm Tuesday NZT). Especially 'El Marcito'.

Marco's guide to football Spanish
Vamos Nueva Zealanda - Let's go New Zealand
Tenemos que ganar - We have to win
El árbitro necesita lentes! - The referee needs glasses!
Golazo! - What a goal!
No fue penal - That wasn't a penalty
No es justo - That's not fair
Tenemos que esperar hasta Wellington - We have to wait until Wellington

- NZ Herald

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