With a playing career spanning three decades and just under 20 sparkling years, US captain Kristine Lilly is a legend in the annals of Planet Football. At 35 years of age and with an astonishing world-best record of 319 caps to her name, the American 'Iron-woman' - as Lilly is known to her fans and team-mates - has no plans of calling it a day any time soon.

Approaching her landmark 300th cap nearly one year ago, the rangy midfielder set the record straight in an interview with FIFA.com. When asked how many more caps the then-34 year old had in her, her response wrapped up her philosophy toward the future in no uncertain terms. "I don't look at my future in caps, but rather in years. I, at least, want to play in one more World Cup in China in 2007. After that we'll see about it."

Far from an aging and grudgingly tolerated relic of the old regime, Lilly is playing some of the best football of her career and was recently named best-player at Peace Queen Cup in Korea Republic, where she brought her international goals tally to an astonishing 116 and her caps to a bloated and hardly believable 319. The men's caps record currently stands at 181 and no one - in either women's or men's football - looks like catching Lilly at that pace. . 

Olympic dream
The triumph in the Far East - which was followed by the US's qualification for next year's FIFA Women's World Cup in China as CONCACAF champions - was just one of many for the ferocious and talented central player, equally effective tracking back and defending, holding an opponent at bay or roaring forward with goals on the brain.

Earning her first cap in China in 1987, at barely 16 years of age, she went on to "win everything there is to win and do everything there is to do," in the words of team-mate Abby Wambach. Lilly's first appearance with the stars and stripes was only the now-fabled US women's national team's 15th game - giving some indication as to her role in the side's progress down through the years.

She was a part of the US team that earned the laurels at the first FIFA Women's World Cup in China in 1991, two Olympic women's football tournament titles (1996 and 2004) and, in what she herself recently told FIFA.com was the highlight of her career, the triumphant 1999 World Cup on home soil.

"My greatest memory would have to be the World Cup (in the US) in 1999 - it was just one of those great sports moments…and not just because we won," she mused about the event that changed the face of sport worldwide, drawing huge crowds out to watch women's football for the first time. "That tournament transcended the game; we brought in people to watch and pay attention to women's soccer who had no idea what it was all about."

 

'A game-changer'
Having started every FIFA Women's World Cup and Olympic Women's Football Tournament match that the USA has ever participated in, she is every inch a beacon to the younger members of the US squad. Goal queen Wambach has even labelled her experienced team-mate her favourite player of all-time.

 

"She is the kind of player that in the closing minutes of a tight game, you want the ball at her feet. She is a game-changer and a tremendous player, our captain and a total team leader," said Wambach - whose strike rate is nothing short of astonishing with 57 goals in 75 caps.

"Lilly has experienced everything you can experience in women's soccer from the first Women's World Cup in 1991 and everything since. With her experience, tenacity and longevity, she is an inspiration and I can't speak highly enough of her as a player or a person." 

With the sour taste of a FIFA Women's World Cup disappointment on home soil in 2003 still lingering, Lilly is looking for vindication in her fourth world finals next year in China. It may well be her curtain call on the world stage, but judging by her youthful attitude and unquenchable spirit, perhaps not.