Most games played in World Cup history: Lionel Messi ties all-time record

By | December 13, 2022

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. 

Lothar Matthaus - 1990 World Cup

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 or third-place match.

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. 

Lionel Messi Argentina Qatar 2022 World Cup Mundial

(Getty Images)

MORE: Who are the all-time World Cup top-scorers?

List of top World Cup appearance-makers

Pos. Player Team World Cups Games
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