There is no greater honour than captaining your country at the FIFA World Cup™ finals, as the likes of France’s Patrice Evra, England’s Steven Gerrard and Germany’s Philipp Lahm will discover over the next few weeks. The illustrious trio are just three of the experienced hands who will be skippering their sides for the first time at South Africa 2010.

In the case of Gerrard and Lahm, their promotion is due to unfortunate injuries suffered by respective team-mates Michael Ballack and Rio Ferdinand, while the Manchester United full-back owes his new-found status to Thierry Henry’s recent inability to hold down a starting place in the France side.

Winners sought
“Fritz Walter, Uwe Seeler, Franz Beckenbauer: when you read those names you realise what it means to be captain of the Germany team,” commented Lahm in an interview published on the website of the Germany Football Association (DFB) just a few days ago.  “Leading out a major footballing nation at a World Cup finals is a tremendous honour and a huge challenge too.”

The Bayern Munich right-back should be up to that challenge, having experienced plenty of big occasions and won many a trophy with his club, not unlike his England counterpart Gerrard, who captained Liverpool with distinction when they claimed the UEFA Champions League title in 2005 after a dramatic final against AC Milan.

Another on-field leader who has developed a taste for collecting winner’s medals is Lucio of Brazil. The Inter Milan man had the privilege of stepping up to collect the FIFA Confederations Cup in South Africa last year, the perfect dress rehearsal for what he hopes will be another triumphant procession in his first world finals in charge of the mighty Seleção.

Leading out a major footballing nation at a World Cup finals is a tremendous honour and a huge challenge too.

Philipp Lahm

There is absolutely no reason why the armband should not go to the men between the posts, as Spain proved at UEFA EURO 2008. Iker Casillas has long been one of the grandees of La Selección and demonstrated his steely leadership qualities in Austria and Switzerland, ensuring his team-mates kept their eye on the prize before gratefully taking hold of it at the end of the tournament. The Real Madrid gloveman is not the only member of the goalkeepers’ union with the responsibility of overseeing operations on the pitch, however, with Paraguay’s Justo Villar and Chile’s Claudio Bravo filling the same role for their national sides.

All being well, two former winners of the FIFA World Player of the Year award will be barking out orders in South Africa. The 2006 winner Fabio Cannavaro is going strong for Italy, while his 2008 counterpart Cristiano Ronaldo has the job of inspiring Portugal’s challenge.

Though the cameras are usually trained on him, the Real Madrid man is aware of his responsibilities and will be happy to share the limelight with his international colleagues when the tournament gets under way: “I think that the whole Portuguese national squad will get a lot of attention and not just me, because of how many Portuguese immigrants there are in South Africa,” he told FIFA.com in an exclusive interview last December.

Old hands
Other contenders for the most coveted crown in the game have entrusted the job to battle-hardened veterans. Greece have looked no further than 33-year-old inspiration Georgios Karagounis, while Denmark will be led out by another thirty-something in Jon Dahl Tomasson, although at 35, Netherlands skipper Giovanni van Bronckhorst is the elder statesman of the three. South Africa’s commander-in-chief on the pitch is Aaron Mokoena, who is a comparitively youthful 29 but does have the small matter of nearly 100 games for Bafana Bafana behind him.

The last word goes to Javier Mascherano, the man appointed by Diego Maradona to head Argentina’s challenge. “The logical thing to say would be that it doesn’t change anything, but there’s no doubt that captaining your country is a tremendous source of pride,” he told FIFA.com after earning the distinction. 

If Mascherano and his team-mates can fire on the pitch, he may well have the honour of lifting the Trophy on July 11, although his 31 counterparts at the world finals, a good few of whom know exactly what it takes to win major competitions, will certainly have something to say about that over the next five weeks.