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World Cup 2018: Introducing the captains

Volunteer training programme for 2017 FIFA Confederations Cup and 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia launched
With the WC almost here, here are the captains of the competing teams
Shyam Kamal

The World Cup is finally here, and on June 14 the biggest spectacle in world football will be kickstarted. 32 teams have fought their way into this (31 really, as Russia didn't lift a finger) and over the course of a month, we will find out who really deserves the trophy.

Despite being a team sport, a captain is very important to the team as they guide them through the highs and the lows of the game.

We have seen Buffon scream his lungs out; we have seen Gerrard kiss his badge; we have seen Puyol take everything but a bullet for his club.

This WC too, the teams have announced their respective captains, who they count on to lead them in Russia. Let us take a look at the captains of the sides competing:


Group A

Russia v Portugal: Group A - FIFA Confederations Cup Russia 2017
The Russian legend will lead the hosts during the WC

Igor Akinfeev - Russia

Possibly the legendary keeper's last World Cup with the national team, and there is no surprise that he is leading the team in home soil. With over 106 caps for them, he has been a staple of Russia for several years now and was handed the captaincy in 2017.

Playing for CSKA Moscow, Akinfeev has over 500 official appearances and has kept a staggering 245 clean sheets across his entire career. Akinfeev will play a vital role for the hosts in defense as well, considering how shaky the defenders in front of him are.

Osama Hawsawi - Saudi Arabia

The 34-year-old Centre back has been chosen to lead the Saudi Arabian national team, and rightly so. With 135 caps to his name, he is the most experienced player in the squad and their most solid defender as well.

As part of Al-Hilal, the winners of the Saudi Professional League for the last two years, he has more than a 100 caps as well, and an essential part of their defense. At 6'2", he is a threatening presence in the air as well both defending and attacking - and has 7 international goals to his name.

Essam El-Hadary - Egypt

The 45-year-old keeper is the oldest player to be selected for the tournament and is certain to break the record for the oldest player to play in the WC, when he features in goal for the Egyptian national team (currently held by Faryd Mondragon of Colombia).

El-Hadary has over 150 caps for the national team, having won the AFCON 4 times and winning the best goalkeeper award thrice. After a temporary retirement in 2013, he returned to the fold and guided Egypt to one more AFCON final.

Currently, he plays for Al-Taawoun in the Saudi Professional League, becoming the first foreign keeper to play in Saudi Arabia. Egypt owes a lot to him for his leadership, and will rely on his experience heavily in Russia.

Uruguay v Czech - 2018 China Cup International Football Championship
The defender will lead Uruguay and look to repeat their 2010 heroics

Diego Godin - Uruguay

Not just one of the best centre-backs in world football at the moment, Diego Godin has also been the blood and sweat of the Atletico Madrid and the Uruguayan national team for the last few years.

The Uruguayan brings both determination and organization to the defense, and is not afraid to wear his heart on his sleeve when it comes to the big moments.

With over 100 caps for Uruguay and more than twice that for his current club, he has more than enough experience in dealing with major tournaments.

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Group B

Portugal v Estonia - International Friendly
After the Euros, it is the turn of the WC to be conquered

Cristiano Ronaldo - Portugal

Cristiano Ronaldo does not need any sort of introduction. He will lead Portugal at the 2018 World Cup. With 150 caps for the national team, he is the most experienced member of the squad (all-time as well) and is also their highest goal-scorer.

The opinions on CR7's contribution for the national side has always been controversial, with people arguing on both sides of the spectrum. But all that was put an end to in 2016, 8 years after being captain, when Portugal won the Euros in France.

Ronaldo will be more instrumental to the team as a player than captain, but his support of his teammates cannot be ignored - his coaching on the sidelines after his injury in the Euro 2016 finals comes to mind.

The World Cup is pretty much the only trophy missing in his cabinet, and there is no doubt that Ronaldo will be giving it his all in Russia.

Spain v Turkey - Group D: UEFA Euro 2016
Ramos will have to lead a manager-less Spain at the WC

Sergio Ramos - Spain

The second Real Madrid player on the list, the Madrid captain also serves as the captain of the Spanish national team. With over 150 caps to his name, Ramos is the most experienced player in the squad and has been the captain of the team ever since the departure of Iker Casillas.

Ramos, despite his tendency to rake in the cards, is without a doubt one of the best centre-backs right now, and along with Barcelona's Gerard Pique will form the heart of the Spanish defense.

His aerial prowess is absolutely critical to the team, and has 13 international goals to his name but that is not where Spain needs him. With their manager sacked too, Spain will look to Ramos for their leadership and if there is one captain you can count on, it has to be him.

Medhi Benatia - Morocco

Juventus' Medhi Benatia is one of the fondest players in Morocco, and after leading them in the 2017 AFCON, Benatia will once again assume control of the team in Russia. With over 50 caps for the national side, he is the second most experienced player in the squad.

In March 2017, Benatia dropped himself from the team for one of the most heart-warming reasons - he was not a regular at Juventus back then and "he felt that is was unfair to come into the national side and take the place of someone who has had more match practice".

If that is not someone you need as your captain, then who is? Benatia is also one of the best defenders in the air with his large frame and physique. With Morocco considered unlikely dark horses for the tournament, Benatia will have enough on his hands in Russia.

Masoud Shojaei - Iran

At 34, Shojaei is the oldest member of the Iran national side (74 national caps) and will be the first Iranian to appear in three World Cups - 2006, 2014 and 2018 now. The midfielder has had an on-and-off career in the team, with him inviting the irk of his nation's politicians for playing against Israel.

Currently playing for AEK Athens, Shojaei's career has been full of controversy, as he is a staunch activist for the Persian Spring and against corruption in the FA.

Group C

France Portraits - 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia
After a not-so-convincing season, Lloris will lead an inexperienced squad at the WC

Hugo Lloris - France

The Goalkeeper has close to 100 caps for the national team, and is their most experienced player. It is no surprise that the Tottenham captain has been chosen to lead the team in the WC as well, he has been the first choice captain since 2012.

His latest season with Spurs was mixed, and his last two performances in friendlies had their share of mistakes as well. Irrespective of that, Lloris is still France's best keeper and will have the task of leading an excellent but very young squad.

Mile Jedinak - Australia

With the most caps (76) after veteran Tim Cahill (106), Mile Jedinak has been chosen to lead the Socceroos in Russia and has served as their captain since 2014.

Jedinak burst on to the scene with Crystal Palace a few years back and was named the Asian International footballer of the year in 2014.

In 2016, he moved to Aston Villa and had 25 appearances for the club in their quest to secure promotion back to the final, before losing out to Fulham in the playoffs.

After participating in the 2010 and 2014 World Cups, this will be the midfielder's final chance to play for the national team at this level.

Flamengo v Sao Paulo - Brasileirao Series A 2017
After several appeals, the striker will lead his nation in Russia

Paulo Guerrero - Peru

One of the few strikers chosen to lead their respective sides, Guerrero's story has been full of twists and turns. Guerrero was initially banned from the WC after it had been found out that he had ingested cocaine, but after several appeals, it was lifted and he is now confirmed to play.

Guerrero is Peru's all-time leading goal scorer and was instrumental in their qualifying campaign as well with 5 goals. He celebrated his comeback with a brace against Saudi Arabia in the friendlies and will be the main source of goals for the team.

Simon Kjaer - Denmark

The 29-year-old center-back has played over 75 games for the national side, and along with Christian Eriksen is their most experienced player at the World Cup. The winner of the 2009 Danish talent of the year, Kjaer has spent his time in several clubs across Europe.

With Lille OSC, he earned a spot on the Ligue 1 Team of the year in the 2013-14 season. and is now playing for Sevilla. He played 20 games for the side this season in La Liga, and was one of their better performers this season.

Group D

Argentina v Uruguay - FIFA 2018 World Cup Qualifiers
A nation looks to Messi once more

Lionel Messi - Argentina

Once again, no introduction is needed. Messi is the leading goal-scorer for the Argentinian national team and is also third on their list of all-time caps.

After a disastrous qualifying run that almost saw Argentina not make it to the WC, it was Messi who helped them claw their way into Russia with a hat-trick on the final match.

After losing three consecutive finals (the 2014 WC and two Copa Americas on either side of it), Messi announced his retirement from the National side, only to come back about a month later for the 2018 qualifiers.

Since then, it has become clear that Argentina are clueless without Messi - even more than Portugal without Ronaldo (which is somehow hard to process).

Like Ronaldo, the WC is the only thing left for him to conquer and in the process displace Maradona as the greatest Argentinian footballer of all time.

Some would argue that he is already better than Diego, but for the Argentinians, unless he wins the elusive World Cup, he will never be in contention.

Aron Gunnarsson - Iceland

After captaining Iceland in their first major tournament - the Euro 2016 in which they firmly established themselves as everyone's second favorite team, Gunnarsson will once again captain the Vikings in their first World Cup appearance.

Currently playing his trade at Cardiff city, he was awarded the club's Player of the year award in 2017. After a host of injuries, he might have fallen out of favor there but he is still a monster of a player when playing for the national team. Here's a recent interview by the player to get you pumped up.

Turkey v Croatia - Group D: UEFA Euro 2016
Will the midfield maestro take Croatia further or falter once more?

Luka Modric - Croatia

The third player from Real Madrid to captain his international side at the WC, Modric is one of the best midfielders at present (and all time too), and will lead dark horses Croatia during their time in Russia.

With over 100 caps for the national side, he is their most experienced player and plays in a more attacking role than he does for Los Blancos. He also has one of the best midfielders alongside him, and will have the task of helping Croatia's golden generation to finally fulfill their potential

John Obi Mikel - Nigeria

After spending 10 seasons at Chelsea, John Obi Mikel finally left the club in the winter window of last season to China, and will lead the Super Eagles in Russia. After bursting on to the scene at the 2005 World Youth Championship, Mikel has over 80 caps for Nigeria and is their most experienced player at the WC.

The defending midfielder has an ever-presence in the national squad, and was a major part of Nigeria's Bronze medal winning performance in the 2016 Summer Olympics.

This time around, he has a considerably harder task ahead of him, in a group that many consider to be the Group of Death.

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Group E

Brazil v Colombia - FIFA 2018 World Cup Qualifiers
Hopefully, Neymar will not be struck by injury this WC

Neymar - Brazil

At 26, Neymar is already one of the biggest names in football, and is considered as the heir to the Messi-Ronaldo throne. After an injury put an end to his last WC at home, Neymar will captain favorites Brazil in Russia.

After captaining Brazil to the gold medal in the 2016 Summer Olympics, this will be Neymar's third major tournament as captain of the team - including the 2015 Copa America in which he was suspended for a deliberate foul and sat out most of the tournament.

With the Ballon d'Or still hanging in the balance, Neymar can make a surprise heist if he leads Brazil to the trophy, as well as establish himself as one of the greatest Brazilian footballers of all time.

Stephan Lichtsteiner - Switzerland

Arsenal's most recent acquirement and Juventus's former player, the right-back will lead Switzerland in the 2018 World Cup.

Standing an imperial 6 feet, he was one of Juventus's most influential players from the bench last season and Switzerland will depend on him to progress into the RO16.

With 100 caps to his name, he is the most experienced player in the side and also has 8 goals to his name in the international stage. He will have the task of organizing the defense around a very young side, with Switzerland expected to pip Costa Rica for the second spot.

Bryan Ruiz - Costa Rica

At 32, Bryan Ruiz has over 110 caps for the Costa Rican National team, and will be leading them during the WC. After a not-so-great career at Fulham, Ruiz transferred to Sporting in 2015, and has since been a staple of the side.

Ruiz was also the captain of the side that stunned the world in the last WC, and was the scorer of the goal that sealed their victory against Italy to qualify for the RO16. The No.10 also has scored 24 goals for the national team, and is integral to Costa Rica's fortunes.

Serbia Portraits - 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia
The experienced defender will don the role of captain

Aleksandar Kolarov - Serbia

After a phenomenal season with AS Roma, Kolarov will lead the Serbian National team during their tough task in Russia. With 76 caps, he is not the most experienced player in the side, but he is very well known for his fighting spirits, which were very much apparent during Roma's CL win over Barcelona.

Kolarov, playing as the left back, is very prone to go on attacks while also being very solid in defense. He is also capable of testing shots from the distance, and despite Serbia not being favorites to get out of the group, his leadership abilities might bring about a surprise or two.

Group F

Northern Ireland v Germany - Group C: UEFA Euro 2016
A timely return for Germany's No.1

Manuel Neuer - Germany

After sitting out pretty much the entirety of the season because of a foot injury, Neuer is back to fitness and will lead the German National team in Russia. There are people who doubt if Neuer will perform to full ability, but Low trusts him and Neuer will be the goalkeeper.

The German players have repeatedly come out in defense of Neuer, saying that his leadership is very important to the team and his selection is not hasty.

Neuer is without a doubt one of the best keepers in the world when he is fit, and it remains to be seen if he is back there for good again.

Neuer was handed over the captaincy after the retirement of Philip Lahm, and without an injury, there would not even be a question of whether he is good or not. His 76 caps for the national side speak to his quality on their own.

Andres Guardado - Mexico

Real Betis's Guardado has been chosen to be the captain of the Mexican national team, and this will be his fourth appearance at the FIFA world cup. Operating from the left as a winger, he is very good for the national team and has scored 25 goals for them in 145 appearances.

The winner of the 2015 CONCACAF Gold Cup golden ball award, Guardado is in charge of a Mexican team that is more mature than its predecessors at the WC. Mexico are expected to go through to the next round along with Germany, and it is up to him to finally break their RO16 curse.

Italy v Sweden - FIFA 2018 World Cup Qualifier Play-Off: Second Leg
The defender was instrumental in shutting out Italy in the playoffs

Andreas Granqvist - Sweden

The recipient of the Swedish player of the year for 2017, Granqvist has been chosen to lead Sweden in Russia. He was handed the captaincy in 2016, after the retirement of Zlatan Ibrahimovich and finally led Sweden to the WC finals.

At 6'4", Granqvist is very dominant in the air in a very defensively organized Swedish team and is a pain to play against. After beating Netherlands and Italy in order to book their place in the final 32, Sweden will fancy their chances against Mexico and South Korea.

Ki Sung-yueng - Korea Republic

With over a 100 caps to his name, Sung-yueng has been a staple of the Korean national team for a long time now, and will lead them during their time in Russia. After getting the captaincy after the 2014 World Cup, this will be his second major tournament as captain, after the 2015 Asia Cup.

The 2015 Swansea player of the year will play in centre midfield for the side, and has scored 10 goals so far for them. After having won the Bronze in the 2012 Olympics, Korea will look to Ki for another shot at glory

Group G

Belgium  v Egypt  -International Friendly
Hazard will continue as captain despite Kompany's return

Eden Hazard - Belgium

Despite Vincent Kompany's return to full fitness, Roberto Martinez has stood by his decision to make the Chelsea superstar as Belgium's captain and he will don the role in Russia. Even if the captaincy could rotate, Hazard will remain the No.1 choice for captaincy.

Hailed as part of the golden generation of Belgium, and after drawing comparisons to both Messi and Ronaldo during his best time at the PL, this is Hazard's chance to show to the world that he is not merely a showboat but can also deliver in the necessary moments.

Belgium have one of the best squads at the WC, and with Hazard at the centre of their attack, they are more than capable of beating any team on their days. Unfortunately, those days have been few and far between.

Felipe Baloy - Panama

At 37 years of age, Baloy is one of the older players to captain their sides in the World Cup. He was part of the Panama national team as early as the qualifiers of the 2006 FIFA World Cup, and will be part of the first WC final appearance for the nation.

After spending his club career in a host of teams across South America, the defender has over 100 caps for the national side and is very important to their defense. He is currently playing for Municipal in Guatemala.

Aymen Mathlouthi - Tunisia

Yet another goalkeeper on the list, Mathlouthi is widely regarded as the best goalkeeper to play for Tunisia, and one of the best African keepers ever. This will be his first WC appearance, considering that this is Tunisia's first appearance in the finals since 2006.

He is very good with his feet and has the tendency to play out of tough situations by dribbling players instead of simply hoofing the ball up-field. With 70 international caps, he is also their most experienced player.

FBL-WC-2018-QUALIFIER-ENG-SLO
Will England's hopes finally be realized?

Harry Kane - England

Despite the presence of more experienced players in the side, players who have the experience of captaining their clubs, Gareth Southgate has gone for Harry Kane as the captain of the England national team.

The decision is not without reason though. Kane has scored 13 goals in 24 matches for England and unlike the other options, is a sure starter for the side. At 24, Kane has been handed the job of bringing the cup home. No pressure, really.

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Group H

FBL-FRIENDLY-POL-CHI
Poland's leading goal scorer

Robert Lewandowski - Poland

The Bayern Munich star is the most famous among his teammates and it is only natural that he has been chosen to lead the Polish National team. A Polish Player of the year for 7 times, he is also their leading goal-scorer, with 55 goals from 95 appearances.

He scored a staggering 16 goals in qualification, a record from the European division of the process. Lewandowski has also dragged Poland to their first WC since 2006, and they will be heavily dependent on him to get them out of a group that nobody knows what to think of.

Cheikhou Kouyate - Senegal

West Ham's Kouyate has been part of the Senegalese national side since 2012, and will captain the side in the 2018 World Cup. After having won 4 league titles and 3 cups with Anderlecht, he moved to the PL in 2014 and has remained with West Ham since then.

Kouyate has appeared in 48 matches for the national side, and will lead the side during their second ever appearance at the WC finals. Kouyate can play both as a defender and midfielder and will be expected to lead the team into the RO16 as underdogs.

Colombia v Brazil - FIFA 2018 World Cup Qualifiers
Colombia's choice for captain

Radamel Falcao - Colombia

After a disastrous couple of years in the PL, Falcao is back to his brutal best with Monaco and has been chosen to lead the Colombian national team during their time in Russia. Falcao is also their all-time leading goal scorer, with 29 goals in 73 appearances.

Falcao missed the 2014 World Cup due to an ACL tear, and this will be his first WC appearance. After missing out for more than a year in the national side, he was back for the WC qualifiers, and scored 2 goals during the run.

Makoto Hasebe - Japan

The 34-year-old defensive midfielder will lead Japan in Russia, and has played as the captain since the 2010 World Cup and the 2011 Asian Cup. Hasebe has over 100 caps for the side, and has been an ever-presence in the team.

Age, unfortunately, has caught up with him as he only played 8 games in the league for Eintracht Frankfurt. The recent DFB Pokal Cup with the side might have given him a late boost, as he looks to lead Japan out of the group stages

Edited by Akhilesh Tirumala

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