Who Has Made The Most World Cup Appearances?
German Lothar Matthäus has made the most World Cup appearances and is one of just three players in the tournament’s history to feature in five different editions.
Coming round once every four years, even the greatest footballers of all time don’t amass a huge number of World Cup appearances.
A poorly-timed injury can take a player out of a tournament, and misfortune in a crucial match can limit the opportunities to add more appearances to the tally.
These players had both longevity and the benefit of playing on some competitive teams.
Lothar Matthäus (Germany) – 25 appearances
A tally of 25 appearances has Lothar Matthäus top of this list, just ahead of his compatriot Miroslav Klose, who holds the record for the most World Cup goals.
Matthäus played in every World Cup from 1982 to 1998, finishing as a runner-up in 1982 and 1986 before lifting the trophy in 1990.
Following the World Cup win, Matthäus won the Ballon d’Or, and was awarded the Silver Ball at the tournament itself.
Operating as a sweeper by the time the 1994 World Cup took place, Matthäus was a surprise call up for 1998, replacing the injured Matthias Sammer.
Paolo Maldini (Italy) – 23 appearances
One of the greatest defenders in the history of the sport, Paolo Maldini’s 23 World Cup appearances are five more than any other Italian.
The Milan icon appeared in the 1990, 1994, 1998 and 2002 World Cups, and was named to the World Cup All-Star Team in 1990 and 1994.
Il Capitano won it all at club level, but he sadly never got his hands on the big prize in international football, with his career falling between Italy’s triumphs.
The closest Maldini came to a winners’ medal was the heart-breaking shootout loss to Brazil in the 1994 final.
Diego Maradona (Argentina) – 21 appearances
A lone outing ahead of Javier Mascherano and two ahead of Lionel Messi, it is fitting that Diego Maradona is Argentina’s appearance leader at World Cups (for now, at least).
El Pibe de Oro appeared in all four tournaments from 1982 to 1994, winning the competition in 1986, and being awarded the Golden Ball for putting his country on his back
Maradona is the greatest player of all-time to many. His World Cup legacy is the foundation of that status, though he was also centre to one of the World Cup’s most controversial moments with his ‘Hand Of God’ against England.
The late Maradona was named to the World Cup All-Star Team when they won the tournament in 1986, and when Argentina were runners-up four years later.
Władysław Żmuda (Poland) – 21 appearances
Far from the most recognisable name on this list, Władysław Żmuda appeared in the 1974, 1978, 1982 and 1986 World Cups for Poland, with the Biało-czerwoni finishing in third place in the first and third of those tournaments.
Żmuda was the tournament’s Best Young Player in 1974. He isn’t the only Pole near the top of the appearance charts either, with Grzegorz Lato accumulating 20 (Lato appeared in the same four tournaments as Żmuda).
Cafu (Brazil) – 20 appearances
Just nudging out Ronaldo on 19 and Dunga on 18, Cafu is Brazil’s World Cup appearance leader.
A decorated player at club level, Cafu also collected hardware with Brazil, becoming the only player to appear in three World Cup finals between 1994 and 2002.
Of course, Brazil won the first and last of those finals, and Cafu was named as a World Cup All-Star Team reserve in 2002. Renowned as a leader while being remarkably durable, Cafu is among the greatest at his position in modern history.
Rafael Márquez (Mexico) – 19 appearances
Rafael Márquez, alongside Matthäus and fellow Mexican Antonio Carbajal, is one of three players to appear at five World Cups.
The former Barcelona defender has featured at all of the World Cups since the turn of the century, and made his last professional appearance in Russia four years ago.
In each of Márquez’s World Cup ventures, Mexico were eliminated in the last 16, which has limited his appearance total.
Fabien Barthez & Thierry Henry (France) – 17 appearances
On 17 appearances, Fabien Barthez and Thierry Henry just edge out fellow 1998 World Cup winner Lilian Thuram.
Barthez played in 1998, 2002 and 2006, while Henry also appeared in 2010.
Of course, their greatest moment was the 1998 final win over Brazil, but they also both suffered the heartache of the 2006 penalty shootout loss in the final to Italy following Zinedine Zidane’s headbutt.
Barthez won the Yashin Award in 1998. Henry’s peak came later, as he was named to the 2006 World Cup All-Star Team.
Iker Casillas & Sergio Ramos (Spain) – 17 appearances
Spain had been known as World Cup underachievers until they lifted the trophy in 2010.
Iker Casillas and Sergio Ramos were part of the spine of that team, though Casillas had appeared in the two prior tournaments. Both featured in 2014, and Ramos played in the last-16 exit in Russia four years later.
The pair were among the elite at their positions throughout their international careers, and each earned spots in the 2010 World Cup Dream Team.
Cristiano Ronaldo (Portugal) – 17* appearances
Barring injury, Cristiano Ronaldo will join the small club of players to play in five World Cups this winter.
Ronaldo is the only Portuguese player with more than 11 World Cup appearances, having featured in every tournament since 2006.
The five-time Ballon d’Or winner scored a lone goal in his first three World Cups. Four more followed in 2018, including a spectacular hat-trick against Spain.
A fourth-place finish in 2006 was the only time Ronaldo has made it past the last 16.
Enzo Scifo (Belgium) – 17 appearances
Prior to Belgium’s recent Golden Generation, De Rode Duivels qualified for six straight World Cups between 1982 and 2002.
Enzo Scifo appeared in four of those. His first appearances came in 1986 when Belgium reached the semi-finals for the first time ever.
Two other Belgians — Jan Ceulemans and Franky Van der Elst – have made 16 appearances. Thibaut Courtois (currently on 12) could tie or surpass Scifo if Roberto Martinez’s team go on a deep run this winter.
Peter Shilton (England) – 17 appearances
Peter Shilton played in the 1982, 1986 and 1990 World Cups for England.
Shilton has made three more World Cup appearances than any other Three Lions player, and was part of the team which made the semi-finals at Italia ’90.
The Leicester native had his greatest individual moment against Cameroon in 1990, pulling off a stunning save against Francois Omam-Biyik.
Most will remember his World Cup career for being the goalkeeper in the immortal images of Diego Maradona’s ‘Hand Of God’.
Wesley Sneijder & Robin van Persie (Netherlands) – 17 appearances
Each a couple ahead of Dirk Kuyt, Wesley Sneijder and Robin van Persie made 17 World Cup appearances across the 2006, 2010 and 2014 tournaments.
Knocked out by Portugal in Germany, the Dutch were far more competitive four years later, with Sneijder winning the tournament’s Silver Ball as the Oranje lost a controversial final to Spain.
In Brazil in 2014, it was another gutting elimination when the Netherlands lost a semi-final penalty shootout to Argentina with Sneijder missing his kick from 12 yards.
Van Persie finished his World Cup career with six goals (joint-second most for the Netherlands).