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Marquez says Mexico can't afford to lose to U.S.

MEXICO CITY — Rafael Marquez is adamant that losing to the United States on Wednesday would deal a severe blow to Mexico's hopes of qualifying for the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.

Mexico has much in its favor when the sides meet. It's playing at the 105,000-seat Estadio Azteca, where the United States has never beaten Mexico. In fact, the U.S. has never won a match anywhere in Mexico. The game will be played at an altitude of 7,400 feet and Mexico is also coming off a morale-boosting 5-0 victory over the United States last month in the Gold Cup final at Giants Stadium.

Mexico will need to overcome the pressure of its fans' expectations and the absence of Marquez himself, who will miss the match with a left leg injury. The Barcelona central defender is one of Mexico's best-known players, though he has been criticized for failing to match his form for the Catalan club while representing his country.

"We're not in a comfortable position ... and a bad result would make going (to the World Cup) more difficult," Marquez said.

Marquez picked up the leg injury last week during training in Seattle for a match against the MLS's Seattle Sounders.

Mexico is struggling to reach South Africa. Once the regional power, it has slipped to No. 30 in the latest FIFA rankings, far behind the U.S. at No. 12.

Since 2000, the U.S. has held the upper hand, winning ten of the 15 matches the sides played.

Midway through qualifying in the North and Central American and Caribbean region, Costa Rica leads the group with 12 points followed by the United States (10), Honduras (7), Mexico (6), El Salvador (5) and Trinidad and Tobago (2). The top three advance automatically with the No. 4 team facing a playoff with the No. 5 side from South America for another berth.

Mexico has failed to qualify for the World Cup three times in the last 50 years. It missed out in 1990 when it was banned for fielding overage players in an Olympic qualifying match. It also failed to qualify in 1974 and 1982.

After failing to qualify for the World Cup for 40 years, the U.S. qualified in 1990 and has played in every one since.

After their clash, both Mexico and the U.S. will have four games remaining in their qualification campaign.