The average professional footballer plays around 350 games in their career. This figure makes the fact that some play 100+ international matches over the course of their footballing lifetime all the more impressive. But when you get to the upper echelons of international players – those who have played upwards of 150 games – you begin to realise how much of a spectacular achievement this is. Here are the ten players (or 11, actually, owing to the players who have played an equal amount of games) with the most international caps in the grand history of the game.
10 (=) – Vitālijs Astafjevs (167 caps, 1992-2010)
A Latvian midfielder, Astafjevs is a legend in his homeland. He has 50 more caps than the second-most capped Latvian – Andrejs Rubins – and is the country’s third-highest all-time goalscorer with 16, not too shabby for a non-striker. As well as this he has won Latvian Footballer of the Year three times with 12 years between his first and final success in the individual award. This remarkable longevity also saw him win five Baltic Cups (contested between Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia and Finland) between 1993 and 2008.
While international football was a constant throughout his career, he was famously something of a journeyman, playing for 11 clubs in his 20-year career. English fans might remember him from his four-year stint with Ian Holloway’s Bristol Rovers.
10th (=) – Iker Casillas (168 caps, 2000-2016)
The first true household name on this list, Iker Casillas is one of the most distinguished goalkeepers in the history of the game, both internationally and in club football. He was Spain’s captain as they became the first European international history to lift three major trophies and succession (Euro 2008, World Cup 2010 and Euro 2012). He was an ever-present in one of the greatest side’s the world has ever seen and his iconic status between the sticks has never been doubt.
Although Casillas has retired from Spain duty, he is one of just four players in this illustrious list who is still active in the playing side of football. Aged 38, he now turns out for Porto in the Primeira Liga and has made 116 league appearances in the past five seasons. This admittedly impressive number is however dwarfed by his mammoth appearance tally for Spanish giants Real Madrid. In total, the goalkeeper appeared 725 times for Los Blancos, winning an astonishing 19 trophies during this generational era. Iker, international football salutes you.
9th – Iván Hurtado (168 caps, 1992-2014)
Coming in at number nine is former Ecuador talisman Iván Hurtado. Hurtado is the first non-European on this list, one of six in total. Of all the players in the top 10, Hurtado is arguably the most impressive in terms of his international footballing life span. His 168 appearances came between 1992 and 2014 – that’s 22 years, two years longer than anyone else on this leaderboard!
A centre-back by trade, Hurtado might have been loyal to Ecuador but in his club career he was anything but. He played for an astonishing 16 different sides throughout his time as a player, with many of them in Mexico and the Middle East as well as his native country. His finest hour came at the 2006 World Cup where Ecuador progressed from their group which contained Germany, Poland and Costa Rica. After impressive results against the latter two, Ecuador advanced to the Round of 16 where they played England who were in the midst of their golden generation and were one of the favourites to win the tournament. They narrowly lost to a trademark David Beckham free-kick but Hurtado won plaudits for his solid defensive display.
7th (=) – Hossam Hassan (170 caps, 1985-2006)
The beautifully alliteratively named Hossam Hassan takes 7th place and is one of two Egyptians on the list making the North African seven-time Cup of Nations winners the joint-best represented nation in this top 10. Hassan is remarkable not only in his appearance record but his strike tally too. The centre-forward scored just shy of 70 goals in his 170 appearances for his home nation, giving him a goals-to-games ration of better than one in three.
His trophy haul on the domestic scene is truly remarkable. For three different countries, he won a truly baffling 35 trophies, the highlight of which was the CAF Champions League (the African equivalent of the UEFA Champions League) in 2002. Add his five success on the international stage – three African Cup of Nations, one All-Africa Games and one Arab Nations Cup – and he has 40 trophies making him one of the most adorned players in the history of the sport alongside the likes of Dani Alves and Maxwell. Truly, Hassan is a name for the ages; in every sense.
7th (=) – Sergio Ramos (170 caps, 2005-present)
Another genuine superstar along with his compatriot Iker Casillas, Sergio Ramos was an integral part of the Spanish backline which backed up their mesmeric midfield and glistening attack at Euro 2008, the 2010 World Cup and Euro 2012. As one of the few active players on this list – and the youngest – you can expect Ramos to rise much higher than his current 7th place position. In fact, should Spain reach the final of Euro 2020 – which they might well do given their immense pedigree – and assuming that he continues to be the leading light in the Spanish defence, Ramos will be just a few games shy of the all-time record of 184 caps.
Ramos has always been a gigantic presence at the heart of any defence, whether it be for Real Madrid or Spain – his incredible defensive statistics are not surprising, therefore. What is more shocking, however, is his astonishing goalscoring record. Ramos is Spain’s 10th (yes, 10th!) all-time leading goalscorer. With 21 goals he has scored more than the likes of Xavi and Iniesta and is only two goals from overtaking Alfredo Di Stefano, one of the greatest forwards of all-time. With this in mind, who would bet against Ramos to continue his international dominance in the coming years?
6th – Gianluigi Buffon (176 caps, 1997-2019)
Another goalkeeper in at number 6, Gianluigi Buffon is one of the most recognisable faces in the game. He is still active as a footballer, playing for Juventus after a year in France with PSG last season, but retired from the international stage in 2018 as his Italy side failed to qualify for the World Cup in Russia. It was a career-low for Buffon who earned praise for his clear commitment to the Italian cause after the game as evidenced by his post-match interview in which he was in floods of tears. It was an ill-fitting end to what was otherwise a sparkling international career.
Of course, the highlight of Buffon’s time as his nation’s number 1 was the 2006 World Cup in Germany. Buffon conceded just one goal on route to the final and was beaten only by a Zinedine Zidane penalty in the final itself. One of the enduring images of that tournament is Buffon in a now-iconic gold kit, keeping a relatively unremarkable Italy side in matches on his own. Buffon is now 41, but he has barely depleted in terms of his ability. He has, however, passed on the torch to his namesake Gianluigi Donnarumma who promises to be every bit as scintillating between the sticks as Buffon.
5th – Claudio Suárez (177 caps, 1992-2006)
The only CONCACAF player in the top 10, Claudio Suarez became a certified Mexican hero over the course of his 177 appearances for Mexico between 1992 and 2006. A defender when played in his natural position, Suarez spent the vast majority of his club career in Mexico too. He had the ability to move to Europe but chose not to, a decision which endeared him all the more to his adoring public in homeland. He turned out for Pumas UNAM, Guadalajara and Tigres UANL – the three biggest clubs in Mexico – between 1988 and 2005 before spending four seasons in the MLS with Chivas where he eventually hung up his boots.
On the international stage, Suarez represented Mexico at three World Cups: USA ’94, France ’98 and Germany ’06. It would have been four, but injury prevented him from being part of Mexico’s squad in 2002. He won four international honours also, the FIFA Confederations Cup in 1999 and three CONCACAF Gold Cups between 1993 and 1998.
3rd (=) – Mohammed Al-Deayea (178 caps, 1993-2006)
The top 10s third and final goalkeeper, Mohammed Al-Deayea appeared for Saudi Arabia between 1993 and 2006, playing 178 games along the way. To call him a mainstay of the Saudi team in that time is a colossal understatement. He was a hugely influential figure in Saudi Arabia’s golden era of international football. Al-Deayea helped the team qualify for four World Cups in succession between 1994 and 2006 and was part of the Under-17 team which won the World Cup in 1989, a triumph which is widely regarded as one of the biggest upsets in international youth football history.
Further to his youth success, Al-Deayea won five cups with Saudi Arabia, including the AFC Asian Cup in 1996, the confederation’s top international prize. In his domestic career, Al-Deayea played for two clubs, Al-Ta’ee and Al-Hilal. In his time with them, he lifted a hugely impressive 18 trophies and won a number of individual accolades.
3rd (=) – Bader Al-Mutawa (178 caps, 2003-present)
Accompanying Al-Deaye in joint-third place is Kuwait cult hero Bader Al-Mutawa. Easily the best player to come out of the country in their 60-year history, Al-Mutawa has gained a reputation as a silky, cultured player who operates behind the main centre-forward in a secondary role – think Luis Suarez for Liverpool, only maybe not quite as good.
His goal record of 56 in 178 games gives him a healthy goals-to-games ratio for his role and he is only going to climb higher up the all-time appearances ranks as, aged 34, he is still yet to retire. He is just one appearance behind the only remaining active player in this list and could well snatch the crown from the 1st placed player at some point in his career.
In his club career, Al-Mutawa has spent his entire footballing under contract of Qadsia in his native Kuwait City. His goal return with them is superb, 237 in 400 matches. He has had two spells out on loan with Qatar SC and Al Nassr but has always returned to his spiritual home
2nd – Ahmed Mubarak (179 caps, 2003-present)
Ahmed Mubarak is synonymous with Omani football. In the tiny Asian nation, the defensive-midfielder is a hero having appeared for the national team 179 times. Like, Al-Mutawa and Ramos, Mubarak is still going on the international stage. Aged 43, he will surely at some point become the most-capped international footballer of all-time, even if the title is not his for too long.
In his club career, Mubarak has played for an almost preposterously high number of clubs – 16 in just 19 seasons. His total number of appearances in this time is unknown given the relative obscurity of some of his footballing homes, but his international credentials are almost without peer.
1st – Ahmed Hassan (184 caps, 1995-2012)
And, finally, we have our most capped international player of all-time – Ahmed Hassan. With 184 appearances in his 17-year international career, Hassan is an unrivalled ambassador for Egyptian football. He, like his namesake, Hossam Hassan, was part of the era-defining Egypt team which swept all before them on the continental African stage.
He won four Africa Cup of Nations tournaments in his long career, three of them coming succession in 2006, 2008 and 2010. In the 2006 and 2010 editions, Hassan not only won the cup but was also named the Best Player, making him one of only a handful of players to have earned that title on more than one occasion.
While it is almost certain that Hassan will have his status as the most-capped international player of all time taken from him at some point, he must be proud beyond measure to have held the distinction for a couple of years at least. Hassan said goodbye to the game in 2012, but his legacy will extend much further into the future.
So, there you have it – those are the most-capped international footballers. But what about the chasing pack? Will there be any new additions to the top 11 any time soon? Well, a guy you might have heard of called Cristiano Ronaldo isn’t far behind, only three caps outside the top 10 in fact. Before his career is over, it is overwhelmingly likely the legendary Portuguese forward will be in the top five or even top three.
The USA’s Michael Bradley is 13 caps behind Cristiano. If he can keep appearing for the United States as consistently as he has over the past few years, he too will surely enter the top 10 in the coming years. As for the younger generation, with international football throwing up more and more fixtures, who knows what the table will look like in the future.
Looking for the most capped England players?