To join a World Cup squad, start matches, contest knockout rounds and celebrate victories is a privilege reserved only for the world’s best.
Only the names that define generations are welcomed back to compete for glory at multiple World Cups, leaving their mark on the world’s biggest sporting show.
From Maradona to Cafu, Maldini to Ronaldo, the players present on the all-time appearances list at World Cups evoke fond memories.
For four years, these great players fight to play as many World Cup minutes as possible, but who has amassed the most appearances?
MORE: Who has won the most World Cups? All-time winners list
Who has played the most World Cup games?
Germany are the second most successful team in the history of FIFA’s premier tournament, so it’s no surprise to see them fielding some of the most experienced World Cup stars.
Nobody has played more World Cup matches than the 25 by Lothar Matthaus, the former West German captain and Italia 90 winner.
Matthaus, a former Ballon d’Or recipient, in 1998 became the first outfield player to appear at five World Cups, 16 years after his tournament debut. The powerhouse midfielder was a three-time finalist, and never exited the tournament before the quarterfinals.
Lionel Messi is coming for his record, though. Now into his own fifth and final World Cup, the great Argentinian has tied Matthaus with his appearance in the 2022 World Cup semifinal and will be set to claim the record all for his own with his appearance in the World Cup final.
Messi’s World Cup story has been one of frustration up to now, suffering a World Cup final defeat in 2014 and multiple early exits.
Argentina’s quarterfinal victory over the Netherlands saw Messi match the appearance tally of World Cup’s all-time highest goalscorer, Miroslav Klose (24).
Klose scored a stunning 16 goals across those 24 matches in four tournaments with Germany, helping them lift the trophy in 2018.
Brazil, despite being the tournament’s most successful nation, have only one name in the top 10 most experienced players. That name is Cafu, the triumphant 2002 captain who featured in 20 matches between 1994 and 2006.
MORE: Who are the all-time World Cup top-scorers?
List of top World Cup appearance-makers
|1.||Lothar Matthaus||Germany||1982, 1986, 1990, 1994, 1998||25|
|Lionel Messi||Argentina||2006, 2010, 2014, 2018, 2022||25|
|3.||Miroslav Klose||Germany||2002, 2006, 2010, 2014||24|
|4.||Paolo Maldini||Italy||1990, 1994, 1998, 2002||23|
|5.||Cristiano Ronaldo||Portugal||2006, 2010, 2014, 2018, 2022||22|
|6.||Diego Maradona||Argentina||1982, 1986, 1990, 1994||21|
|Uwe Seeler||Germany||1958, 1962, 1966, 1970||21|
|Wladyslaw Zmuda||Poland||1974, 1978, 1982, 1986||21|
|9.||Cafu||Brazil||1994, 1998, 2002, 2006||20|
|Philipp Lahm||Germany||2006, 2010, 2014||20|
|Grzegorz Lato||Poland||1974, 1978, 1982||20|
|Javier Mascherano||Argentina||2006, 2010, 2014, 2018||20|
|Bastian Schweinsteiger||Germany||2006, 2010, 2014||20|