Mexico faces a tough challenge on Monday when they play their final match of Group A against Croatia. Croatia is currently ranked ahead of Mexico on the FIFA world rankings and will be stiff competition for El Tri. Mexico is in the driver’s seat however. With a win or draw against Croatia, they are in to the knockout round. With a loss, their World Cup journey is over.

A crucial part of that journey and every journey for Mexico over the past four World Cups has been El Tri’s leader and captain, defenseman, Rafael Márquez.

Marquez’s journey began at the 2002 World Cup in Korea/Japan at the tender age of 23. At the time, Marquez was an unknown commodity playing for AS Monaco. Mexico’s then coach, Javier Aguirre saw enough of Marquez’s leadership in national try outs to hand Marquez the coveted yellow captain’s armband; an honor that Marquez has earned for the past 12 years.

Ironically, that first World Cup for Marquez was the first and last time Mexico played Croatia on the World Cup stage. Mexico won that match 1-0 thanks to a late penalty kick by Cuauhtémoc Blanco and made it on to the Round of 16.

Nearly 4,400 days later, and now 35-years old, Marquez is starting in his Mexican record 15th World Cup game on Monday and his World Cup journey has come full circle as Mexico again has to beat Croatia to make it into the Round of 16.

If Marquez has his way, June 23rd will not be his final match every played for Mexico, as he is determined to extend his streak of most World Cup games played. “It feels just like the first time. I’m enjoying every instant of every game,” he told the media Sunday.

“We’ve got a great group of players, staff and coaches. So, we’ve got the chance to achieve something really big and that’s what spurs me on to make the most of this last chance and get a great result with Mexico. I think it’ll be a very tough clash [versus Croatia], but we’ll come through in the end.”