Finals will be Marquez's swansong

By Carlos Calvo

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) - Rafael Marquez, the first Mexican signed by Barcelona thanks to distinguished performances for the national team and AS Monaco, will bow out of international soccer at the World Cup.

"The moment has come to give way to young Mexicans so I'll be giving my all in South Africa," Marquez told a news conference in March.

The 31-year-old is one of the European-based players certain to appear in coach Javier Aguirre's squad to contest the tournament opener against hosts South Africa on June 11, and the remaining Group A games against Uruguay and France.

Marquez, who started out at Mexican club Atlas aged 17, made his bow for the "Tricolor" in February 1997 when Serbian coach Bora Milutinovich chose him for a friendly against Ecuador.

Marquez got into the squad by chance when Milutinovich, who had called up another Atlas player, Cesar Marquez, saw Rafael train and asked him to stay.

Since that debut, Marquez has been a key element in the national team, playing 95 times and wearing the captain's armband at the 2002 and 2006 World Cups.

At the 1999 Copa America in Paraguay, a Monaco scout went to the game between Mexico and Chile to give a contract to a Chilean player but Marquez's performance convinced him to choose the Mexican.

After eye-catching performances at Monaco and then with Mexico at the 2002 World Cup in Japan and South Korea, he moved to Barcelona where his star continued to rise and he became one of the best central defenders in the world.

Despite his achievements, the defender does not feel widely acknowledged at home.

"Unfortunately, in Mexico I am not recognized for what I have achieved and what I am doing for the country but this doesn't worry me. I always try to be the same person," Marquez said in an interview with Televisa.

(Writing by Tom Pilcher; Editing by Clare Fallon)