Cristiano Ronaldo vs Lionel Messi: Who are the greatest ever international goalscorers?


Cristiano Ronaldo is on course to become the all-time top goalscorer in international football.

The five-time Ballon d’Or winner ticked off his 100th and 101st goals in the colours of Portugal during a UEFA Nations League victory over Sweden in September.

To reach a century of goals for your nation is truly something remarkable and only Iranian legend Ali Daei has achieved the feat before him, notching up 109 strikes on the international stage.

Cristiano Ronaldo: History maker

Although Ronaldo is now closer to his 40th birthday than his 30th, you’d be foolish to back against the unrelenting footballing machine to retire before he became the undisputed number one.

Besides, it’s scary to think of the numbers Ronaldo could reach when he’s showing no signs of stopping before next year’s European Championships and the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.

So, in celebration of Ronaldo’s mind-blowing achievements in international football, we wanted to see how he compared to the other players who have been lethal in front of goals for their nations.


25 greatest international scorer

We’ve compiled the 25 highest goal-scorers in international history, per statistics from Goal, while adding a little twist to things by calculating their goal-per-game ratio.

Yes, of course, comparing players from different eras and confederations this way isn’t a perfect system, but don’t pretend as though you aren’t intrigued to see how the legends shape up.

So, without further ado, check out how the 25 greatest strikers in international football, including both Lionel Messi and Ronaldo, compare when we tested just how lethal they truly were:


25. Hossam Hassan (Egypt) – 0.40

Caps: 169

Goals: 70

With an international career spanning two decades, Hassan became an Egyptian legend playing at the 1990 World Cup and featured in seven Africa Cup of Nations, lifting the title before retiring in 2006.


24. Robbie Keane (Ireland) – 0.47

Caps: 146

Goals: 68

Nobody has scored more goals nor amassed more caps for the Emerald Isle than the ex-Tottenham, Liverpool and Inter Milan striker, competing at three major tournaments, including the 2002 World Cup.


23. Lionel Messi (Argentina) – 0.50

Caps: 138

Goals: 70

We’re as surprised as you are to see Messi this far down the pecking order but frankly, any position here is still worthy of praise and regularly playing top South American opposition can be a big ask.

It speaks volume that the country he’s scored the most against is Brazil, even if his Argentina career is so often remembered by World Cup heartbreak and back-to-back Copa America final defeats.


22. Carlos Ruiz (Guatemala) – 0.51

Caps: 133

Goals: 68

Ruiz is perhaps best remembered for shining in the MLS with LA Galaxy and FC Dallas, though his incredible record for Guatemala shouldn’t be slept on with the national legend hanging up his boots in 2016.


21. Ahmed Radhi (Iraq) – 0.51

Caps: 121

Goals: 62

Voted the inaugural Asian Footballer of the Year in 1988, Radhi is one of the greatest players to ever emerge from the world’s largest continent and scored Iraq’s only goal at the 1986 World Cup.


20. Miroslav Klose (Germany) – 0.52

Caps: 137

Goals: 71

While Klose might find himself a record-breaking ratio here, he will always be remembered for becoming the all-time top scorer in World Cup history with 16 strikes across four tournaments.

From scoring in the 7-1 demolition of Brazil, kickstarting the 4-1 thrashing of England to bagging no less than five headers at the 2002 finals, Klose is one of the finest big-game players in international history.


19. Kiatisuk Senamuang (Thailand) – 0.53

Caps: 134

Goals: 71

Thailand’s greatest ever striker boasts the record for both goals and appearances for his country, eventually hanging up his boots and leading his nation from the technical area between 2014 and 2017.


18. Zlatan Ibrahimovic (Sweden) – 0.54

Caps: 116

Goals: 62

It says everything about Zlatan’s influence on Swedish football that he was named the country’s finest male player 11 times within a 12-year span and his goal-scoring record ranks soundly here.

It’s certainly impressive to find yourself above both Messi and Klose, never mind the fact his iconic four-goal haul against England might be the finest individual display from anyone among the top 25.


17. Bashar Abdullah (Kuwait) – 0.56

Caps: 133

Goals: 75

Abdullah became a sensation for the Arabic nation towards the end of the 1990s and early 2000s, making it three-quarters of the way to a century of goals across three Asian Cups and the 2000 Olympics.


16. Hussein Saeed (Iraq) – 0.57

Caps: 137

Goals: 78

You’ve got to credit Iraq for joining a select number of nations to feature more than one player in the top 25 with their all-time record goalscorer, Saeed, featuring at the 1986 World Cup and three Olympics to boot.


15. Stern John (Trinidad and Tobago) – 0.60

Caps: 115

Goals: 70

The most lucrative scorer of any CONCACAF member in history, John is best remembered for his time in the Premier League with Birmingham City and Sunderland, while also appearing at the 2006 World Cup.


14. Majed Abdullah (Saudi Arabia) – 0.61

Caps: 116

Goals: 71

Abdullah boasts the unique distinction of becoming the record goalscorer of both Saudi Arabia and the Saudi Professional League, going on to end his 17-year international career as captain at the 1994 World Cup.


13. Cristiano Ronaldo (Portugal) – 0.61

Caps: 165

Goals: 101

So, here he is, the man himself places just outside of the top half despite being on course to become the leading goalscorer of them, but make no mistake that 13th is still an impressive finish.

Ronaldo has the distinction of being the joint-highest scorer in European Championship history as well as becoming just the fourth player to have scored at four World Cup tournaments.

You dread to think where Ronaldo would place if the form that saw him score 14 international goals in 2019, 11 in 2017 and 13 in 2016 pervaded his entire time with Portugal.


12. Kinnah Phiri (Malawi) – 0.62

Caps: 115

Goals: 71

Another star who ticks both the national record for caps and goals, the most remarkable fact about Phiri’s achievement is that he accomplished it in seven years, averaging double figures in front of goal annually.


11. Didier Drogba (Ivory Coast) – 0.62

Caps: 105

Goals: 65

Drogba is a national hero in the Ivory Coast and the only disappointment is that he never got his hands on the Africa Cup of Nations trophy, despite leading The Elephants to within two penalty shootouts of glory.

Nevertheless, Drogba is proudly the second highest-placing African here and scored his country’s first ever World Cup goal in the 2006 tournament, before striking against Brazil four years later.


10. Sunil Chhetri (India) – 0.63

Caps: 115

Goals: 72

A round of applause for Chhetri, 36, as one of only three players still turning out for their national team on the list and the other two are Ronaldo and Messi, so be sure to clap with extra gusto. 


9. Ronaldo Nazario (Brazil) – 0.63

Caps: 98

Goals: 62

In terms of strikers from the modern era playing for one of the world’s most successful nations, then Ronaldo finds himself in top spot with his stunning tally for Brazil, which included 15 World Cup strikes.

Ronaldo will always have a special place in the hearts of his nation for winning the Golden Boot for eight strikes on the way to World Cup glory in 2002, scoring twice past the great Oliver Kahn in the final.


8. Piyapong Pue-on (Thailand) – 0.70

Caps: 100

Goals: 70

Just one strike behind his compatriot Senamuang, Pue-on wins the battle in terms of goal-per-game ratio and consistently scored for both his nation and the Royal Thai Airforce across three decades.


7. Godfrey Chitalu (Zambia) – 0.73

Caps: 108

Goals: 79

The Kabwe Warriors legend is the highest-scoring African in international history, amassing 17 goals in 1978 alone, but sadly met a tragic end with his compatriots in the 1993 Zambian air disaster after turning to coaching.


6. Ali Daei (Iran) – 0.73

Caps: 149

Goals: 109

Ah, the man who finds himself in Ronaldo’s cross-hair, but Daei can reassure himself that his goal-per-game ratio will most likely remain above the Real Madrid legend regardless of whether his total does not.

Daei enjoyed a fairytale finish to his international career by playing in his first World Cup in 2006 and although he played a single season with Bayern Munich, it was Iran for whom he enjoyed the most success.


5. Pele (Brazil) – 0.84

Caps: 92

Goals: 77

Say what you like about Pele’s claim to over 1,000 goals because, yes, some of the opposition he faced with Santos was undoubtedly questionable, but his international record has stood the test of time.

We’re talking about a footballing icon who was scoring hat-tricks at the World Cup before his 20th birthday, finding the net in four tournaments and becoming only one of four players to score in two different finals.


4. Ferenc Puskas (Hungary and Spain) – 0.94

Caps: 89

Goals: 84

One of the greatest footballers of all time, Puskas was such an incredible striker that FIFA’s award for goal of the year is named after him and one of his 84 strikes came in the 1954 World Cup final.

The only shame is that Puskas would find himself on the podium if it wasn’t for a brief foray back into international football with his adopted nation of Spain, failing to score in four appearances.


3. Kunishige Kamamoto (Japan) – 0.95

Caps: 84

Goals: 80

A one-club man with Yanmar Diesel, Kamamoto became the fourth-highest scorer in international history for Japan across 13 years, top-scoring at the 1968 Olympics and bagging 15 strikes in just eight games in 1972.


2. Gerd Muller (West Germany) – 1.10

Caps: 62

Goals: 68

It’s staggering to think that Muller scored more goals for his country than he played games, winning the Golden Boot at the 1970 World Cup and then scoring the winner in the final four years later.

‘Der Bomber’ is nothing short of one of the greatest goal-scorers in footballing history and it wasn’t until Messi’s remarkable haul of 91 goals in 2012 that his calendar year scoring record was finally broken. 


1. Sandor Kocsis (Hungary) – 1.10

Caps: 68

Goals: 75

The aforementioned Puskas might have been the superstar in the legendary Hungary team of the 1950s, but it was Kocsis who proved their goalscoring talisman with seven more goals than caps.

Kocsis scored eight goals during the 1954 World Cup, including no less than four goals in an 8-3 annihilation of West Germany, before going on to score 82 times in over 100 appearances for Barcelona.


GIVEMESPORT’s Kobe Tong says

Make no mistake, Ronaldo finishing in 13th is an incredible achievement when you see some of his contemporaries like Ibrahimovic, Klose, Keane and Messi finishing so much further down.

International football has changed massively over the years both in terms of the frequency of games and quality of the opposition that this shouldn’t appear as some inditement of Ronaldo’s stats.

That being said, it doesn’t mean we should completely roll our eyes at two legends in the form of Muller and Kocsis taking the silver and gold medals.


Both natural-born goal-scorers played for the world’s best international team in their respective eras and would still have been prolific if they had been born in the modern era.

Sadly, there will never be a perfect way of testing who would be the most lethal goalscorer in identical circumstances, but what I do know is that all 25 players deserve a round of applause.

That, and if Ronaldo helps himself to nine more strikes for Portugal, then regardless of goal-per-game ratios, we would all have to bow down to him as the greatest ever international scorer.

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