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Who Has Played in the Most World Cups?

The FIFA World Cup is the top competition in world football, with teams from around the globe competing to win the coveted gold trophy, one of the most recognisable sports prizes.

Since it was first held in Uruguay in 1930, the competition has set the world’s best national soccer teams against each other, competing in groups and then at a knockout stage until a winner is decided.

The challenging demands of professional soccer mean that only the cream of the crop makes it to play in a World Cup for their nation. Have you ever wondered which players have represented their country in the most competition? Let us take a look.

Lothar Mattäus

Although every player on this list was selected for the squad in five FIFA World Cup competitions, German icon Lothar Matthaus has to top the list. He currently reigns supreme as having competed in not only five FIFA World Cups but also holds the title for the most games played in a FIFA World Cup competition for an outfield player.

Matthaus is widely regarded as one of the greatest box-to-box midfielders ever, playing consistently for over 20 years and regularly demonstrating his versatile skillset, precision passing, strength, speed, and ability to shoot from a distance.

He was captain of West Germany when they emphatically beat Italy to win the World Cup in 1990, and he also took to the field in 1982, 1984, 1994, and 1998 competitions, meaning he was able to keep his fitness levels up to be chosen for 16 years.

After winning the World Cup in 1990, he was awarded the Ballon d’Or and received the FIFA player of the year award in 1991, he was the only German player to receive that accolade. 

Antonio Carbajal

Regarded as one of the best all-time players to come from Mexico, Carbajal also took to the field in five FIFA World Cup competitions. As a goalkeeper of the Mexican national team, Carbajal made his debut on 24th June 1950 against the Brazillian national team.

Brazil won 4-0. In the next World Cup in 1954, he took to the field just once, completing a closely fought 3-2 defeat to France in Switzerland.

In 1958 he was again drafted into the travelling squad and was fielded three times, losing 4-0 against Hungary, drawing 1-1 against Wales to share the points, and then losing to Sweden 3-0 in Mexico’s final game of the tournament. 

Interestingly, it was after his call-up to the Mexican squad for the fourth time for the 1962 World Cup that Carbajal became the first person to play in four World Cup competitions.

That year, Mexico won their first-ever World Cup match in which he played a crucial role in defeating Czechoslovakia by three goals to one an epic first-round battle.

In 1966 he was again entered into the history books by being selected to represent his nation for a fifth time on football’s biggest stage.

The only other player in World Cup history to have competed in five FIFA World Cups is also Mexican, a player named Rafael Marquez.

Demonstrating Mexico’s passion for professional football, Marquez made it into the Mexican squad for the 2002, 2006, 2010, 2014, and 2018 Championships.

Mexican manager Ricardo Antonio La Volpe called on Marquez for the 2006 campaign in Germany, where he participated in all three of Mexico’s first-round matches, netting the only goal in a passionate first-round defeat to rivals Argentina.

In 2010, Marquez captained Mexico in the competition in South Africa, again scoring a goal in the opening first-round match against the hosts.

Arguably the highlight of his international career came in the 2018 World Cup, where he famously scored the winner in a 2-1 victory over the USA, making him a national hero back home overnight.

An honourable mention in this list of players having played in the most World Cups goes to Italian goalkeeping legend Gianluigi Buffon. Buffon was selected for the Italian World Cup squad in 1998, 2002, 2006, 2010, and 2014, although he did not play in 1998.

During the other world Cup call-ups, he played fourteen matches for his country, being on the winning side on six occasions, including winning the tournament in 2006 against France’s rivals.

The players mentioned above are the only ones to be selected for five FIFA World Cup competitions. It is a statement of these athletes’ longevity in the beautiful game that although there are only four players to be chosen for five World Cups, fifty-one players have played at four competitions.

This remarkable statistic demonstrates the athleticism, dedication and physical conditioning required to be selected to play for your country for two decades straight.