By 90Min
February 05, 2018

Some say the role of a captain is overstated, reducing it in their mind to a ceremonial honour.

But top teams cannot function without a true leader on the pitch, someone to inspire, motivate and even sometimes take up the cause by themselves.

These eight captains have shown all those qualities over the years, successfully guiding their teams through famously epic battles...

Francesco Totti vs Lazio, 2000


Francesco Totti was just 22 years of age when he was named Roma captain in 1998, the youngest club captain in Serie A history, and wore the armband with pride and distinction until the day he retired nearly 20 years later.

In just his third season as skipper and still barely 24, Totti led Roma to a significant 1-0 win over fierce rivals Lazio in December 2000. Lazio were reigning Serie A champions at the time, and although both clubs shared Stadio Olimpico, Roma were the 'visitors' in the hostile atmosphere.

Leading much older and more established stars like Cafu, Gabriel Batistuta and Aldair, Totti inspired the Roma victory, decided by a second half own goal. Come the end of the season, they took Lazio's crown, winning only their third title in the process. To this day, it remains their last.

Theodoros Zagorakis vs Portugal, 2004

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Theodoros Zagorakis was like a Greek colossus en-route to his country's shock Euro 2004 triumph, but no more so than in the final itself when Greece shut down Portugal's biggest threats to keep yet another clean sheet and win the game by a single goal.

The combative Zagorakis had previously played in the Premier League for Leicester City, but returned to play club football back home in 2000. More than anyone, he embodied the Greek attitude and spirit, putting his body on the line to win by the only way they knew how.

As well as lifting the trophy, Zagorakis finished the tournament with the 'Best Player' prize and was even later finished fifth in the standings in the 2004 Ballon d'Or for his heroic efforts.

Steven Gerrard vs AC Milan, 2005


No single game in Liverpool history stands out more than the 2005 Champions League final, a truly epic battle for the already underdog Reds after going 3-0 down in the first half.

As the second half began, Steven Gerrard led by example and a spectacular comeback saw Liverpool bring the score-line back to 3-3 by the hour mark and then hold their nerve through the rest of the game, going toe to toe with Milan, before snatching the win on penalties.

It was only Gerrard's first full season as Liverpool captain after inheriting the armband permanently in October 2003, while he had actually started the 2004/05 suffering with injures. But without his intervention, that night in Istanbul would have ended far differently.

David Beckham vs Greece, 2001

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England's World Cup qualifier with Greece is solely remembered for the stoppage time free-kick scored by captain David Beckham. It made the score 2-2 and handed the Three Lions the point they needed to seal an automatic place at the 2002 World Cup.

Yet even before he lined up that iconic set-piece, Beckham had been playing like a man possessed, dragging his underperforming team-mates along with him.

The game should have been a banker for England. Greece were still three years shy of being the team that would win Euro 2004 and could only finish a distant fourth in the group. But the England players threatened to wilt under the pressure, with the exception of Beckham.

Diego Maradona vs West Germany, 1986


The 1986 World Cup was Diego Maradona's tournament and he was captain as Argentina lifted their second title in the space of eight years. En-route to the final he had given an incredible performance against England, delivering one of the greatest goals of all time.

The final against West Germany was nothing short of a thriller. The Germans had a plan for Maradona, though, largely marking him out of the game, or so they thought.

His shackles had given others in the Argentina team the chance to shine and La Albiceleste found themselves 2-0 up, only for West Germany to come roaring back. But then Maradona's moment came, delivering an inch perfect through ball for Jorge Burruchaga to net the winner.

Roy Keane vs Juventus, 1999

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An iconic line of commentary described Roy Keane's header against Juventus in the second leg of the 1998/99 Champions League semi-final as a "captain's goal".

Prior to that moment, United were 2-0 down on the night, 3-1 down on aggregate, and seemingly needed a miracle to progress to a first European Cup final since 1968.

Shortly after that goal, Keane was booked and knew he would be suspended for the final if United got there. It did not deter him, though. Barely a minute later, United were level when Dwight Yorke scored. At that moment, the team would make it through on away goals, but Keane never let up and the result was wrapped up for sure when Andrew Cole scored a third.

Cristiano Ronaldo vs Sweden, 2013


After finishing second in their World Cup qualifying group, Portugal's hopes of a place at the 2014 World Cup hung on a two-legged playoff against Sweden.

It was heavyweight versus heavyweight leading the two teams, with Zlatan Ibrahimovic captaining the Swedes and Cristiano Ronaldo captaining the Portuguese. Only one could go to the tournament in Brazil the following summer.

Ronaldo had already scored in the first leg in Portugal to give his country a slender 1-0 lead in the tie, but it was in the return leg in Stockholm that he truly rose to the occasion. Ronaldo put in an incredible performance on the night, scoring a second half hat-trick to seal a 3-2 victory, cancelling out two goals from Ibrahimovic and securing a 4-2 Portuguese aggregate win.

Lionel Messi vs Ecuador, 2017

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Argentina were in serious danger of missing out on their first World Cup since 1970, with their qualifying hopes resting on a final away game against Ecuador in the high altitude of Quito.

Argentina hadn't won a game in Ecuador since 2001 and were really up against it, even more so after going a goal down inside the first 40 seconds. Then came Lionel Messi, a captain not known for his verbal leadership but rather the example he sets to inspire others.

Two Messi goals turned the game on its head within 20 minutes. The five-time Ballon d'Or winner, captain of his country since 2011, then completed his hat-trick in the second half to make absolutely sure of the result. A World Cup without Argentina would have been unthinkable.

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