Lionel Messi has the chance to make history at next year’s FIFA World Cup as Argentina close in on qualification for Qatar.
The Albiceleste are currently second in CONMEBOL qualifying, 12 points clear of fifth place with six games remaining. The top four will book a place at next winter’s showpiece event and, with a game in hand to further their chances, Argentina are within touching distance.
If Lionel Scaloni’s side were to reach the final in 13 months, Messi could make his 26th appearance at World Cup tournaments – more than any other player.
Having currently featured 19 times in finals matches, the Paris Saint-Germain forward has 11 players to beat if he wants to take the appearance crown. Read on to find out who they are…
The top 11
=11. Bastian Schweinsteiger: 20 appearances
Impressively, Schweinsteiger’s World Cup appearances came across just three editions. He was a key member of Jurgen Klinsmann’s youthful Germany side that surprisingly reached the 2006 semi-finals, and he continued to play a huge role under Joachim Low. In fact, he missed just one match across the next two World Cups, playing in six out of seven possible games as Die Mannschaft stood on top of the podium in Brazil in 2014.
=11. Javier Mascherano: 20 apps
Messi is the only player to have featured for Argentina more often than Javier Mascherano, who picked up 147 caps across 15 years. That included 20 outings at World Cups, with the now-37-year-old generally playing in defensive midfield. Russia 2018 was probably a bridge too far – many will remember Kylian Mbappe sprinting past him as if he wasn’t even there against France in the Round of 16 – but Mascherano remains a national legend.
=11. Grzegorz Lato: 20 apps
While Robert Lewandowski is the only real star in the current Poland side, the eastern European nation were a force to be reckoned with from the early 70s to the early 80s thanks to several recognisable faces. One of those was Lato and, as the Poles finished third in 1974 and 1982, he managed to rack up 10 World Cup goals. Only 10 men have ever managed more.
=11. Philipp Lahm: 20 apps
Just like Schweinsteiger, it was in 2006 that Lahm burst onto the scene. He netted the tournament’s first goal, with Germany as hosts, and by the time they won the whole competition in Brazil in 2014, the Bayern Munich stalwart was captain. His versatility made him a vital player for Low, playing at right-back, left-back and even defensive midfield across his time with the national team.
=11. Cafu: 20 apps
Regularly seen bombing up and down the wing both at club and international level throughout the 90s and 00s, Cafu is the only player to feature in three World Cup finals, all in successive tournaments. Brazil prevailed in two of those and, in 2002, the right-back lifted the trophy as captain.
=4. Wladyslaw Zmuda: 21 apps
Arguably the least-known name on this list, Zmuda was another member of that successful Poland squad. At the 1974 World Cup in West Germany, he was named the tournament’s Best Young Player and remained an essential member of the squad right up until Mexico 1986.
The Football Terrace: Check out Terry’s EXCLUSIVE interview with the one and only Sam Allardyce…
=4. Uwe Seeler: 21 apps
Seeler’s West Germany career came at an unfortunate time – he made his debut months after the country won their first World Cup in 1954, and retired four years before they won their second in 1974. However, he remains one of the tournament’s legends, becoming the first player to make 20 appearances and the first to score in four editions. His nine World Cup goals helped his nation finish runners-up in 1966 and third in 1970.
=4. Diego Maradona: 21 apps
Even if Messi does help Argentina win the World Cup next year, he may well remain in Maradona’s shadow. The controversial playmaker, who passed away last year, left his stamp on several editions of the tournament, but it was in 1986 when he wrote himself into history. Although England fans may never forgive the Hand of God goal, his brilliance far outweighed his poor sportsmanship as he led Argentina to the trophy.
3. Paolo Maldini: 23 apps
One of the greatest defenders of all time, Maldini has played more World Cup minutes than any other player. He was a young member of the 1990 Italy squad that reached the semi-finals on home soil, and was captain four years later as the Azzurri were beaten by Brazil in the final in the USA. The AC Milan legend retained the armband in 1998 and 2002, when he retired following his country’s Golden Goal defeat to South Korea.
2. Miroslav Klose: 24 apps
Not only has Klose played more games at World Cups than all but one other man, no other player has matched his goal tally of 16. While he wasn’t the most elegant of players, he was crucial to Germany’s success. He featured in two World Cup finals, winning one, and reached the semi-finals in 2006 and 2010.
1. Lothar Matthaus: 25 apps
The most-capped German player ever, Matthaus featured 25 times across five World Cups. He would have joined Cafu as the only player to play in three finals had he been brought on from the bench in 1982, and he lifted the trophy in 1990 as West Germany beat Argentina 1-0 in the final. All in all, his international lasted 20 years, making him a true legend of the game.