The FIFA World Cup is not only the most prestigious event in soccer, but also one of, if not the biggest sporting event on Earth. Taking place every four years, it’s hard to find another competition that creates similar levels of excitement.
Representing the national team at a World Cup is every player’s dream, but only a few make it. Even fewer have the privilege to do so on many occasions, but these ten players managed to have the most appearances in the tournament.
The FIFA World Cup is the most significant sporting event on the planet, and of course, the tournament with the highest anticipation in soccer. It all started in 1930 in Uruguay with only 13 participant teams, but eventually the competition expanded and most of the best players in the world have taken part in it. However, not many have been able to play in multiple World Cups—let alone record double-digit appearances.
Bastian Schweinsteiger’s first World Cup experiences were heartbreaking, as Germany left much to be desired at home in 2006, before falling short in South Africa 2010. However, his last dance was perfect as the midfielder helped his country reach the promised land in Brazil 2014.
Other players who have also played in twenty World Cup matches are Philipp Lahm, Grzegorz Lato, Javier Mascherano, Wolfgang Overath, Per Mertesacker, Rafael Márquez, Berti Vogts, Karl-Heinz Rummenigge, and goalkeeper Hugo Lloris.
One of, if not the best right-back of all time, Cafu was part of a golden era in Brazil. La Verde-Amarela had waited for decades to win another World Cup, until Cafu’s generation ended the drought in USA 1994. The star fullback, praised for his pace and contribution in attack, made three World Cup finals in as many participations, winning the trophy twice (1994 and 2002).
Wladyslaw Zmuda played an instrumental role in Poland’s golden generation that won worldwide recognition in the 1970s and early 80s. The center back took part in four consecutive World Cups, helping the team reach third place in 1974 and 1982—their best result to date.
Diego Maradona’s reputation as one of the greatest athletes of all time, and for many the best player ever, has a lot to do with his World Cup performances. The Argentine star wrote some memorable chapters in sports history in Mexico 1986, scoring the “Hand of God” goal and the “Goal of the Century” against England, as well as a double vs. Belgium in the semifinals to help Argentina win the World Cup.
Diego also came close to lifting the trophy in Italy 1990, but his side lost in the final. His World Cup history had a sad ending, as Maradona was separated from the team and banned from USA 1994 after testing positive for a prohibited substance.
Uwe Seeler was an extraordinary striker and one of the most prolific goalscorers in German soccer history, but the World Cup was quite elusive in his brilliant career. The first top scorer of the Bundesliga, Seeler’s first World Cup participation with West Germany came in Sweden 1958, one edition after the team’s success in Switzerland.
Though he came close in 1966—losing to England in the final—Seeler never got to win the title as his last participation came in 1970, one edition before his country won the cup again. He still had a remarkable international career, recording 43 goals in 72 caps for Germany.
Qatar 2022 may not have ended as expected for Cristiano Ronaldo, but he still managed to make history in his fifth World Cup participation, becoming the only player to score in five consecutive editions
With Portugal losing to Morocco in the quarterfinals, Ronaldo reached 22 World Cup matches, taking distance from Sergio Ramos (who was previously tied with him at 17 games) to become the fifth player with the most appearances.
Players that leave their mark in World Cup history are not only those who lift the trophy. Paolo Maldini, for instance, never got to win the trophy (Maldini didn’t lift an international title, not even a UEFA title) but he still became an iconic World Cup player, representing Italy in consecutive editions between 1990 and 2002. Maldini was an excellent defender, and his nation have missed him since his last outing at the 2002 World Cup.
When we talk about Miroslav Klose, we’re talking about the World Cup’s all-time top scorer. With 16 goals in 24 appearances to his name, the former German striker holds one of the most prominent records in tournament history.
Klose—who scored 71 goals in 137 caps for Germany—was unstoppable at South Korea-Japan 2002 and Germany 2006, scoring five goals in each edition. He added four to his count in South Africa 2010, before recording his final two goals to help Germany succeed at Brazil 2014.
Before Lionel Messi broke the record in Qatar 2022, Lothar Matthaus was the player with the most appearances at the tournament—having played 25 World Cup matches. He didn’t have much room in the Germany that finished as runners-up at Spain 1982, but was already a starter by the time Germany made the Mexico 1986 final.
A dependable center midfielder, Matthaus’ luck with the team changed four years later. He captained Germany to glory in Italy 1990, winning the Ballon d’Or the same year. Matthaus couldn’t take the team to such a deep run in the next two World Cups, as Germany lost in the quarterfinals on both occasions.
Lionel Messi entered the room of players with five World Cup tournaments played, which includes Antonio Carbajal, Rafael Marquez, Gianluigi Buffon, among others. Having taken part in Germany 2006 as a teenager, Messi went on to represent Argentina in consecutive World Cups—only going scoreless in South Africa 2010.
Curiously, Messi’s best World Cup came at his 35 years of age. After a disappointing experience at Russia 2018, Messi became the player with the most World Cup appearances by taking Argentina to the Qatar 2022 final. It ended in the best possible way, as he lifted the FIFA World Cup trophy for the first time in his career after his team beat France. Besides, Messi also became the first player to score in all knockout stage rounds.
International football is always special for any player, but playing at a World Cup is bigger than anything else. Not many players get to do so, which is why this is a very privileged list.
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