Cristiano Ronaldo might be reaching 100 caps tonight against Northern Ireland, which is very impressive considering he’s only 27, but he’s still got a way to go before becoming Portugal’s most capped player of all time. Luis Figo has 127 at the top, and he’s joined by other big names like Javier Zanetti, Cafu and Fabio Cannavaro as the players with most appearances for the top national teams.
How did we choose the 20 nations to feature? By taking the top 20 teams on the world cup all-time table, using that as our indication for greatness.
Javier Zanetti (Argentina) – 145 Caps
Zanetti, 39, began his international career in 1994, making his debut on November 16 against Chile. He has played for the national team in five Copa America tournaments and two world cups (controversially not getting the call up for 2006 and 2010), scoring 5 goals in the process. He hasn’t played an international match since the 2011 Copa America.
Andreas Herzong (Austria) – 103 Caps
The attacking midfielder, mostly remembered for his time with Werder Bremen and Bayern Munich in the Bundesliga, began his international career in April 1988, making his debut against Greece, later participating in two world cups with the national side – 1990 and 1998. He has scored 26 goals for Austria before retiring from the national side in 2003 in a friendly against Scotland.
Jan Ceulemans (Belgium) – 96 Caps
The attacking midfielder, currently part of the Westerlo coaching staff, was part of Beglium’s best World Cup stretch, playing in three of them and scoring three goals in the 1986 tournament, including a famous header against Spain that put his team in the semifinal. Most of his club career was spent with Club Brugge, scoring 191 goals for the club and famously turning down an offer from AC Milan.
Cafu (Brazil) – 142 Caps
One of the greatest right backs of all time, Cafu played in three consecutive World Cup Finals (1994, 1998, 2002), winning two of them. He began his Brazil career in 1990, playing against Spain. He holds the record of winning the most number of matches in World Cups with 16. He has scored 5 goals for the national team, playing his final match in the 2006 World Cup.
Leonel Sanchez (Chile) – 84 Caps
Sanchez played the most part of his club career for Universidad de Chile, also participating in two World Cups with Chile, including the one they hosted in 1962. He scored 23 goals for the national team, four in the 1962 World Cup. In that World Cup he also knocked out the Italian player Mario David with a hook in a dispute in the infamous Chile – Italy match.
Karel Poborsky (Czech Repbulic) – 118 Caps
Still remembered by many for his lob goal in Euro 1996, Poborsky played for the national side from 1994 to 2006, scoring 8 goals. He retired from the national side after the 2006 world cup, and he played in three Euro tournaments with the side (1996, 2000, 2004) and one World cup.
Peter Shilton (England) – 125 Caps
The closest anyone has come to Shilton’s appearance record over the last 40 years is David Beckham, stopped at 115. Shilton also holds the all-time record for the most competitive appearances in world football. He made his debut after the 1970 World Cup, playing in a match against East Germany. He played in three World Cup tournaments with England, including 1986, conceding to the “hand of god” and the “greatest goal ever” and the 1990 tournament, when England reached the semifinal.
Lilian Thuram (France) – 142 Caps
One of the greatest defensive players of all time, Thuram is currently sixth among European players on the caps charts, having played for France from 1994 to 2008, playing in three world cups (winning in 1998, final in 2006) and four Euro tournaments, retiring after Euro 2008. His only two goals for the national side came in the famous World Cup win against Croatia, coming back from a goal down to win 2-1.
Lothar Matthäus (Germany) – 150 Caps
The only outfield player to take part of five world cups, he’s also played in more world cup matches than any else – 25. He’s been to two world cup finals, winning in 1990. He also played in four Euro tournaments, winning one in 1980. He’s scored 23 goals for the national side (both Germany and West Germany), playing his last three matches for the national team in Euro 2000.
József Bozsik (Hungary) – 101 Caps
Bozsik was part of the Mighty Magyars of the 1950’s, playing for the national team from 1947 to 1962, winning the gold medal in 1952, reaching the world cup final in 1954 and also making the 1958 world cup. He scored 11 goals for Hungary and played his entire club career for Honved.
Fabio Cannavaro (Italy) – 136 Caps
Cannavaro has a 13 cap lead of Gianluigi Buffon, risking his place at the top. Cannavaro played for the national team for the first time in 1997 against Northern Ireland. He participated in four World Cups tournaments, famously captaining Italy to the 2006 trophy, playing a huge part in the defensive excellence of conceding only 2 goals throughout the tournament, one of them an own goal and the second a penalty kick. He scored only two goals for Italy, both in friendly matches. He retired after the 2010 world cup.
Claudio Suarez (Mexico) – 178 Caps
He’s joint at second with Mohamed Al-Deayea of Saudi Arabia for most capped players of all time, falling short to Ahmed Hassan of Egypt. Suarez began his career for Mexico in 1992 and was part of three world cup squads, not playing a single minute in 2006, retiring from international football thereafter. He did win three Gold Cups and the 1999 Confederations cup with Mexico, scoring 5 goals in his national team career.
Edwin van der Sar (Netherlands) – 130 Caps
van der Sar was actually in the 1994 squad to the World Cup, but he didn’t make his international debut until June 1995. He played in three world cups with the Dutch national side and four Euro tournaments, participating in three consecutive tournament elimination matches – Against France in 1996, Brazil in 1998 and Italy in 2000.
Michał Żewłakow (Poland) – 102 Caps
Zevlakow is still playing club football for Legia Warsaw, playing his final international match in 2011. He played in the 2002 and 2006 world cup, and was part of the Polish squad to Euro 2008. He has three goals for the national side, the last of them in the qualifiers for the 2010 world cup.
Luis Figo (Portugal) – 127 Caps
Cristiano Ronaldo is reaching 100 caps, and it’s hard to see how he won’t pass Luis Figo’s 127. The legendary winger played for the national side from 1994 to 2006, retiring after the ’06 world cup. He scored 32 goals for Portugal, but none of them in a world cup, playing in two of them. He also played in three Euro tournaments, including finishing as runners-up in 2004.
Viktor Onopko (Russia) – 109 Caps
Currently the assistant manager at CSKA Moscow, Onopko actually played four times for the CIS team in 1992. He was born in Ukraine but preferred playing for Russia, retiring from the national team in 2009, playing in Euro 1992 & 1996 and also in two world cups – 1994 & 2002. Injury prevented him from playing in Euro 1994.
Iker Casillas (Spain) – 141 Caps
Part of the Spanish golden generation, winning two Euro tournaments and one world cup, Casillas made his debut for Spain at the age of 19, in 2000, playing against Sweden. He was an unused substitute in Euro 2000, and took Santiago Canizares’ place in the first team before the 2002 world cup, earning his “saint” nickname after the penalty shootout against Ireland. He’s been the Spanish captain since 2008.
Thomas Ravelli (Sweden) – 143 Caps
The goalkeeper who played most of his career for two clubs (Oster and IFK) in Sweden spent nearly two decades between the posts of the national side, beginning in 1981. He played in two world cups with Sweden, including finishing third in 1994, and was on the goalline in the semifinal appearance in Euro 1992.
Diego Forlan (Uruguay) – 92 Caps
Still going, Forlan is also the best all time scorer for the side with 33 goals. He made his debut for Uruguay on 27 March 2002, scoring his first goal in a 3–2 friendly defeat against Saudi Arabia. He has played in two world cups for Uruguay and three Copa America tournaments, winning it in 2011.
For the Kingdom of Yugoslavia (1918–1943) and the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (1946–1992), the highest capped player was Dragan Džajić, who played between 1964 and 1979 for the national team, scoring 23 goals. He played in two Euro tournaments (1968, 1976) and the 1974 world cup. For Serbia, the most capped played is Savo Milosevic, played 102 times for the national team, scoring 37 goals, also a record. For Croatia, Dario Simic’s 100 caps is the record, but that should be tied before the end of 2012.