MEXICO captain Rafael Marquez once again led by example to help carry his side into the last 16 with a 3-1 victory over Croatia which ended their hopes of qualifying from Group A.

The 35-year-old, captaining his country at a record fourth World Cup, superbly marshalled the tournament's meanest defence against a team who had to win to go through and then popped up with the breakthrough goal.

Marquez's powerful 72nd-minute header forced Croatia to push even harder and that played straight into Mexico's hands as they added a further two in the next 10 minutes to set up a knockout tie against free-scoring Holland.

Andres Guadardo expertly converted a counter-attack move down the right before substitute Javier Hernandez put his frustrating season at Manchester United behind him by nodding in from close range.

Perisic's well-taken consolation three minutes from time came too late to save Croatia from a World Cup exit, which came slightly earlier for Ante Rebic who was sent off for a high lunge at Carlos Pena.

In a particularly tetchy first half the European side dominated play but created little and that was never going to be enough to threaten a defence with the indomitable Marquez at its heart and in Guillermo Ochoa had the only goalkeeper not to concede a goal in the first two matches.

Mexico midfielder Hector Herrera had the best chance of the half, smashing a 25-yard left-foot effort against the angle of crossbar and post - which was closer than Ivan Perisic had come with his shot from distance.

The wily Marquez, a veteran of 123 internationals, knew exactly what he was doing when he brought down Perisic yards from his own penalty area after a Mexico corner had broken down but the booking was worth it as Darijo Srna smashed over the free-kick.

While the first half was certainly no Mexican stand-off the North Americans began to sense Croatia were weakening after the interval and they could have had a penalty when Guadardo's shot hit Srna's arm but were awarded only a corner - from which Vedran Corluka headed off the line.

As the match entered its last 18 minutes Croatia knew they had to raise the stakes as a draw was enough for their opponents to go through but it backfired when Marquez headed in Herrera's corner at the far post.

Guardardo then clinically dispatched first time Oribe Peralta's cross and when Hector Moreno cleared from almost off the line after Ochoa had been beaten by Rebic's shot at the end of a weaving run it was almost inevitable Mexico added a third through Hernandez's far-post header at a corner.

Frustration finally boiled over with a minute to go when Rebic displayed no remorse following through on Pena and even less when shown a straight red card.