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Do the U.S. and Mexico care about the Gold Cup anymore?

Gold Cup
 By Nayib Moran

Mexico's leadership void without Rafael Marquez laid bare

Mexico legend Rafael Marquez missed the calamitous 7-0 defeat against Chile in the Copa America quarterfinals, having left the squad before the game to witness the birth of his third child, Leonardo. And as El Tri come to terms with one of the worst nights in their history, it is tempting to move on from the Marquez era. Something has to change.

Coach Juan Carlos Osorio, under pressure following a wretched defeat, chose not to introduce Marquez -- a veteran of five World Cups and six Copa America tournaments with his country -- despite the damage that unfolded. Mexico's loss against the Chileans is the worst at a major tournament in El Tri history.

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A Mexico team without Marquez had to happen at some point and following Saturday's incredible defeat, Osorio and this team should start moving away from the leadership figure "Rafa" has represented since 1997. There's a tendency to believe that with Marquez on the pitch, Mexico has a true leader and a footballer capable of helping El Tri win battles in the midfield. His exquisite passing has been a valuable asset since the 1998 World Cup in France. There hasn't been another Mexican defender capable to match his skills nor act like him on the pitch.

He has endured his difficult moments -- a sending off in the 2-0 defeat to United States in the round of 16 at the 2002 World Cup springs to mind -- yet there have been a greater number of positive moments, where Marquez has been fundamental to El Tri's success.

Football in Mexico has developed since Marquez's international debut 19 years ago. More Mexican footballers are heading to Europe to continue their careers, no doubt inspired by Marquez's spell at Barcelona between 2003 and '10.

Against Chile, it was scary to see Mexico feel defeated early on in the second half and worst of all, there was no real leader on the pitch to raise the players' spirits. The defense was unresponsive after Chile made it 3-0 and the holders took advantage, adding another four goals. If one positive thing comes out of this terrible defeat, it is that Coach Osorio would have been able to see who has leadership qualities and who does not.

Rafa Marquez
Rafael Marquez is a Mexico legend, having captained his country at four successive World Cups.

In a recent interview with Spanish newspaper El Pais, former French center-back and Marquez's teammate at Barca, Lilian Thuram, pointed out how important it is to have 11 leaders on the pitch.

Andres Guardado, the captain on Saturday night, looked shocked as the goals went in. His lack of confidence didn't help his side. Elsewhere, Javier "Chicharito" Hernandez, Miguel Layun, Guillermo Ochoa and Hector Moreno were unable to show leadership qualities when the team needed it the most. Meanwhile, Chile's Arturo Vidal, Marcelo Diaz, Gary Medel and Claudio Bravo were showcasing the leadership qualities Mexican players lacked.

After this 7-0 defeat, is Marquez the only true and proven leader that Mexico's national team has available? He could be. However, Mexico has reached this point because Marquez still feels he can contribute; there hasn't been an indication that he wants to retire.

Osorio has said several times that Marquez remains a part of his plans, yet in a match where Mexico needed him to straighten out a deplorable performance, he opted not to use him. If there was a moment where Mexico could have demonstrated they were ready to step up and move on from Marquez, it was on Saturday night in front of a pro-Mexico crowd, with their leader on the bench looking on. But it didn't happen.

The 7-0 loss proved that El Tri still depends on Marquez, 37. In order for Osorio's men to move on from this, they will need to get on without him. Layun, Guardado, Hernandez, Ochoa and Moreno will need to step up as leaders. If they do, the humiliating defeat will be seen as a turning point rather than the embarrassment it currently seems to be.

Nayib Moran covers Liga MX and the Mexican national team for ESPN FC. Twitter: @nayibmoran.


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