With 198 caps accumulated since his senior debut in 2003, Ronaldo already stands alone as the record holder for most international appearances, having played more times for his country than any other man.
Therefore, should Ronaldo feature against both Bosnia-Herzegovina on Saturday and Iceland next Tuesday in Portugal’s Euro 2024 qualifiers during the upcoming international break, he will have a double-century to go with his scoring record in men’s internationals (at 122 goals and counting.)
While few can doubt the grandeur of his achievements in the men’s game, the 38-year-old forward is still way, way off matching the outright records in either of those categories. In fact, he’d have to play on for another decade or more and score at least another 70 goals if he wanted to claim them.
That is because while Ronaldo might comfortably preside over both records — most international appearances and most international goals — in the men’s game, there are more than two-dozen female players who have won more senior international caps than him to date, as well as six footballers in the women’s game who have scored more goals for their country.
Here’s a look at just how much Ronaldo is left in the shade when it comes to the international caps record.
The list is dominated by Americans
By FIFA’s count, Ronaldo is the undisputed record holder when it comes to the men’s caps after taking the mantle from Bader Al-Mutawa of Kuwait earlier this year. Al-Mutawa played 196 games for his country between 2003 and 2022.
However, there are no fewer than 26 female players who have made 200 or more full international appearances during their careers. Li Jie of China (No. 26 on the list with 200 caps and 26th) is Ronaldo’s closest competition as things stand, though even she trails the record holder by more than 150 caps.
The upper echelons of the women’s all-time appearance makers list are absolutely dominated by former United States internationals, with seven of the top eight players being Americans including Carli Lloyd, Mia Hamm and Abby Wambach. Furthermore, of the 26 players who have won more international caps than Ronaldo, almost half (12) represented the USWNT. Some still do.
The U.S. aside, only two other nations have more than one representative included among that 26-strong contingent: Canada have three players on the list, one more than China who have two.
Morgan, Rapinoe about to join the club
Morgan and Rapinoe are among the most-decorated players in USWNT history, with the pair double-World Cup winners, Olympic Gold medallists and three-time Concacaf Women’s Championship winners.
With 121 goals to her name, Morgan is also the fifth-highest goal scorer in USWNT history, while 2019 Ballon d’Or winner Rapinoe (63 goals) is 10th on the list. Meanwhile, both players are also ranked among the top 10 of the USWNT’s all-time highest assist providers.
Kristine Lilly is still No. 1
There are 156 caps separating Ronaldo and the player out in front at the very top of the overall all-time international appearance list.
That player is Kristine Lilly, former USWNT ever-present and 2015 U.S. Soccer Hall of Fame inductee, who won a mind-boggling 354 caps for the United States in an exemplary career that spanned 23 years between 1987 and 2010.
Lilly has represented her country more times than any other footballer in history across both the men’s and women’s game, winning a World Cup and two Olympic Gold medals along the way before eventually bowing out in November 2010 following a World Cup qualifier against Mexico.
She is also the third-highest scorer in USWNT history with 130 goals, putting her behind only Hamm (158 goals) and Wambach (184) in the standings.
Can Christine Sinclair catch her?
Second on the overall list is Canada legend Christine Sinclair, who has 323 international caps to her name in a lengthy career that has also spanned 23 years and seen her both appear and score at five different World Cups (a formidable record only matched by Marta of Brazil and Ronaldo of Portugal.)
With 190 goals in 323 games, the powerful striker is the world’s all-time leading international goal scorer having netted at least one goal for Canada in every calendar year between 2000 and 2022. Indeed, 2023 has been the first year of Sinclair’s international career in which she hasn’t managed to score for her national side, in four appearances so far, though there is still plenty of time and a Women’s World Cup on the horizon for that to change.
The Canadian colossus, who recently turned 40, requires a further 31 caps to equal Lilly’s long-standing record. Given that she has only made 27 appearances for her national team in the past three years, it looks fairly unlikely. That said, anybody who has witnessed Sinclair in full flow will know that betting against her is usually a rather foolish endeavour.
The Phenomenal Formiga
Even Ronaldo and Sinclair cannot compete when it comes to the sheer longevity of former Brazil defender Formiga, who won 234 caps while representing the Selecao over the course of an international career that lasted 26 years.
Proudly representing her country for over a quarter of a century, Formiga is far and away the most capped player in the history of Brazilian national team. She is also the only player in the entire history of either men’s or women’s football to have featured at seven World Cups. Formiga is also the oldest player to appear at the Women’s World Cup, having been aged 41 when she took to the pitch at the 2019 finals.
Beginning with the very first women’s football tournament in Atlanta in 1996, the tough centre-back (who made her international debut at the age of 17 the previous year) is also the only footballer to have appeared at seven Olympic Games.
It’s amazing to think that Formiga’s phenomenal cap count would likely be even higher had she not retired from international for two years between 2016 and 2018, only to return to take part in that year’s Copa America Femenina, which Brazil won. She then bowed out for a second time in November 2021 at the age of 43.
Is Ronaldo even the most-capped male player?
When Ronaldo made his 197th international appearance for Portugal against Liechtenstein in a Euro 2024 qualifier back in March, he moved past previous record-holder Bader Al-Mutawa of Kuwait to become the most-capped player in the history of men’s football.
Al-Mutawa’s total could even have been higher were it not for Kuwait being suspended by FIFA from all international competition due to governmental interference within their football association on two separate occasions in 2007-08 and 2015-17. The amount of games Al-Mutawa was denied the opportunity to play in could easily have taken his tally beyond a double-century.
Curiously, Al-Mutawa — who has mainly played his club football for Kuwaiti giants Qadsia, barring a couple of loan spells in Qatar and Saudi Arabia — previously had to reclaim his status as the world’s most-capped male footballer — from someone who retired from the game all the way back in 1984.
The situation stemmed from the fact that FIFA only awards caps in official ‘A’ internationals and the definition as to what constitutes such as match has been redefined over the years. As a result, an updated release of FIFA’s Century Club last August saw ex-Malaysia international Soh Chin Ann’s tally of appearances raised to 195. This left Al-Mutawa with a 10-cap deficit to make up, which he duly did in an AFC Asian Cup qualifier against Jordan a year ago.
Adding to the confusion is the fact that, in some quarters, Soh is recorded as having made over 200 appearances for Malaysia. The Rec.Sport Soccer Statistics Foundation (RSSSF) lists Soh as having 219 caps while the Football Association of Malaysia itself has an even loftier figure of 252. The main point of contention stems from the fact that many Olympic Games and Southeast Asian Games were not previously counted in FIFA’s ‘A’ category, nor would they now that they are primarily under-23 competitions.
Furthermore, back in the day when it was fairly common for European clubs to visit countries in Asia to play friendly or exhibition ties, they often took on selection sides that — while playing under the banner of a Malaysia XI, for example — were not officially the national team. At times, these invitational teams even included foreign players that were plying their trade in the domestic league, and surely that does not mean they have won a cap for a country they are not even eligible to represent.
These may explain why there is so much debate over Soh’s actual tally, which also means it is best to use FIFA’s number for official purposes. That number of 195 was the one that Al-Mutawa officially bettered, and his figure of 196 is the mark Ronaldo beat earlier this year. Regardless of how in shape Ronaldo might still be, and how much longer he believes he can continue for his national team, Lilly’s tally of 354 caps is surely beyond him. — Gabriel Tan