THEY are the men who held the hopes of nations in their hands.
From Thiago Silva to Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi to England’s Harry Kane and Wales hero Gareth Bale, it is the dream of every country’s captain to win football’s World Cup.
Most have their hopes crushed – but the winners take their place in history.
Now new Netflix docuseries, Captains Of The World, takes a closer look at the pressure put on the handful of men tasked with leading their teams to victory.
The six-part show follows captains and coaches during the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.
We look at how some of football’s most famous names fought for their country’s pride in a bid to lift the famous gold trophy.
RANKED one of the world’s greatest players, Lionel Messi dreamed of emulating his hero Diego Maradona.
He missed his idol, after Maradona died in November 2020 of a heart attack.
He said: “It’s really weird not having him here, not seeing him in the stands, not seeing people going crazy when he shows up.
“He made everyone feel something special. This is my last chance to achieve my greatest dream, but this is a World Cup and it’s really tough.”
Argentina went through to the semis after an explosive win in a penalty shootout against the Netherlands.
The match was marked by tempers boiling over in an ongoing feud between Messi and Dutch head coach Louis van Gaal.
The pair shared bad blood over van Gaal’s treatment of Messi’s mentor and Argentine footballing icon Juan Roman Riquelme when the Dutchman managed Barcelona.
Messi was left fuming after van Gaal “disrespected” his team by claiming the play-maker didn’t contribute to the game when the other side had the ball.
After scoring Argentina’s second goal, Messi channelled Riquelme’s mocking victory celebration before calling Netherlands goal scorer Wout Weghorst an idiot in a bad-tempered post-match outburst in the tunnel.
Messi said: “It was a really tough game. We were facing a great team. We have a very good group of players. They know how to fight when the going gets tough.
“They (the Netherlands) talked a lot before the game and I didn’t like it.
“The player in the number 19 shirt (Weghorst) kept provoking us. Bumping into us, and saying things from the start.
“I don’t think that behaviour belongs in football.
“I was really angry before the match because a coach like van Gaal . . . I felt he had disrespected the Argentinian team.”
Messi fulfilled his World Cup mission after leading Argentina to victory over France in a spectacular final.
He scored twice in the 3-3 match before scoring again from the spot as Argentina won on penalties.
He said: “It’s very hard to explain how you feel at that moment. All that energy.”
Asked if he had any advice for his younger self, he said: “Enjoy football, keep doing what you do, because that’s what matters the most and the rest will come.”
BALE led Wales to their first World Cup since 1958 and told how much-loved former manager Gary Speed, who took his own life in 2011, aged 42, still inspires the nation.
On reaching Qatar he said: “The proudest thing you can do as an athlete is to represent your country.
“To be playing for Wales and taking them to the World Cup, for it to become a reality is surreal.
“Whenever I meet up with Wales it feels like home.
“I know everyone sees that I’m quiet, but I like to joke around and get people going. It’s about us as a team, trying to do as best we can.”
He said the team still talk about Gary Speed, adding: “We still speak about him. Everyone involved will tell you how grateful the whole nation is.
“If he hadn’t come in at that moment, we might not be where we are now, we might not have had that foundation built for us to really kick on and achieve what we’ve achieved.”
Kane missed a penalty which saw England crash out when they lost 2-1 to France.
But the England talisman never lost hope until the last moment.
He said: “We’re level-headed, we know what we need to do to go far in this tournament. It’s important you control your emotions.
“We’re not just here to reach the quarter-final and we have to believe if we want to go all the way.”
On penalties he said: “I like to have the ball in my hands, stay calm.
“I always kind of know where I’m going to put the penalty, focus on that.”
Lloris says of Kane’s miss: “That’s football.”
England boss Gareth Southgate said: “England always think they should be winning. History would tell us that’s not really the case.”
RONALDO hoped his fifth World Cup finals would see him get his hands on the trophy at last.
He got off to a rocky start after it was rumoured he threatened to quit after being benched for two games.
He said: “Everyone wants to win but there can only be one winner.
“If you asked me if I finished my career today, would I be happy? Yes of course! But a World Cup win could be fun.”
Of his shredded dreams after a quarter-final exit, he said: “Some people like me, some people don’t, but I’m proud of everything I’ve done. It wouldn’t be fair for me to ask for more.
“I don’t chase records, records chase me. Pressure? Every player feels pressure. There’s been pressure ever since I left Madeira aged 11.”
AN emotional Silva told how he was left “hurt” after pre-tournament favourites Brazil were knocked out by Croatia in the quarter-finals.
But he said he had already won the biggest battle of his life after winning a fight for survival against tuberculosis aged 21 in 2005.
The Chelsea defender said: “People say Thiago is weak for having emotions. I wouldn’t have got where I am today by being mentally weak.
“I had to be strong in one of the biggest battles of my life. I left Brazil when I was young . . . I trained and trained with a painful chest.
“The doctor held the X-ray up and you could see there was a huge hole in my lung.
“If we had waited any longer for diagnosis there would be no cure.
“Going through tuberculosis left me with scars that will never heal.
“When people say I’ve won a lot of trophies, the biggest achievement of my life was overcoming that.”