Messi, Ronaldo, Neymar: The most prolific XI in men's international football history

Ronaldo and Messi shake hands.

Cristiano Ronaldo scored his 116th and 117th goals for Portugal over the weekend.

In a comfortable 4-0 UEFA Nations League win over Switzerland, the Manchester United star helped himself to a brace slotted between goals from William Carvalho and Diogo Jota.

It seemed like an eternity ago that Ronaldo established himself as the record goalscorer in men’s international football, surpassing the previous high watermark of 109 goals by Ali Daei.

Prolific goalscorers in international football

And with Ronaldo still proving himself as one of the world’s best centre forwards at 37 years old, you dread to think how far clear of Daei he might have moved by the time that he retires.

However, just because it seems highly unlikely that anyone will top Ronaldo’s achievements on the international stage, that doesn’t mean he’s the only player to have been prolific for his country.

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And lest we forget that not all goals are scored from the number nine position with plenty of stars making a name for themselves on the international stage by scoring from midfield or defence.

In fact, so wild is the sport we love dearly that even a handful of goalkeepers have managed to find the back of the net – their opponents’, that is – while sporting the colours of their country.

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The highest-scoring international XI

So, bearing that in mind, we decided to widen the net of prolific international goalscorers to look at the players in each position who have scored the most away from simply the club game.

Using the data over at Transfermarkt, we’ve been able to establish who would play alongside and behind Ronaldo in the highest-scoring international XI in the history of the men’s game.

From some of Ronaldo’s star-studded contemporaries to players you might never have heard of, be sure to check out the stunning line-up of players with the most international goals down below:

GK: José Luis Chilavert (Paraguay) – 8 goals

The man, the myth, the legend. Staggeringly, half of Chilavert’s goals came during a 12-month span in the 2002 World Cup qualifiers and he even found the net during the 1997 Copa America.

Chilavert scored eight goals for Paraguay.
Paraguay’s star goalkeeper Jose Luis Chilavert applauds towards the crowd after the end of a first-round Group D match against Bulgaria in Montpellier June 12. Paraguay and Bulgaria played to a 0-0 draw. ZDC/JES/

RB: Darijo Srna (Croatia) – 22 goals

One of the most prolific full-backs in history with a wand of a right foot and eye for a stunning free-kick, Srna finished his international career in 2016 with a record of a goal every six games.

CB: Sergio Ramos (Spain) – 23 goals

It had to be, didn’t it? The centre-back who loves scoring penalties, free-kicks and headers was always going to make the cut and amassing no less than 180(!!!) caps for Spain hardly hurt his chances.

Ramos captaining Spain.
Soccer Football – International Friendly – Wales v Spain – Principality Stadium, Cardiff, Britain – October 11, 2018 Spain’s Sergio Ramos celebrates scoring their second goal Action Images via Reuters/Andrew Couldridge

CB: Fernando Hierro (Spain) – 29 goals

And clearly Spanish centre-backs have a particular appetite for goals with Hierro – who sometimes operated in midfield – remarkably ranked as the fifth all-time top scorer in the history of La Roja.

Hierro celebrating with Spain.
Spain’s Fernando Hierro (L) and Fernando Morientes celebrate their third goal in the second half of their Group B match at the World Cup finals in Kwangju, South Korea, June 2, 2002. REUTERS/Jerry Lampen KW

LB: Salman Isa (Bahrain) – 25 goals

Was he more of a wing-back and winger? Sure, so insert USA’s DaMarcus Beasley or Thailand’s Dusit Chalermsan if you prefer, but there’s no denying that Isa had an underrated eye for goal.

CDM: Karim Bagheri (Iran) – 50 goals

Imagine scoring half a century of goals from defensive midfield. Bagheri needed only 87 caps to amass his 50 strikes and even scored seven times in a World Cup qualifier against the Maldives.

RM: Lionel Messi (Argentina) – 86 goals

Who’s this bloke? Messi is already the all-time leading goalscorer for a South American country and could well move to second on the global list if he decides to play on past the 2022 World Cup.

Messi scores for Argentina.
Soccer Football – World Cup – South American Qualifiers – Argentina v Bolivia – El Monumental, Buenos Aires, Argentina – September 9, 2021 Argentina’s Lionel Messi celebrates scoring their first goal Pool via REUTERS/Juan Ignacio Roncoroni

CAM: Iswadi Idris (Indonesia) – 55 goals

Idris captained Indonesia for no less than 10 years as he commanded a head-spinning goalscoring record for his country, bagging four hat-tricks – including a five-goal haul – between 1968 and 1980.

LM: Neymar (Brazil) – 73 goals

Put some respect on Neymar’s name. For all the criticism that he receives, it’s crazy to think that he’s only five goals away from surpassing Pele’s all-time Brazil record at just 30 years old.

Brazil's Neymar celebrates.
Soccer Football – World Cup – South American Qualifiers – Brazil v Uruguay – Arena da Amazonia, Manaus, Brazil- October 14, 2021 Brazil’s Neymar celebrates scoring their first goal REUTERS/Ricardo Moraes

ST: Ali Daei (Iran) – 109 goals

The man who adorned your copies of the Guinness Book of Records year after year consolidates his place in our XI with an astonishing 109 goals in just 149 games between 1993 and 2006.

ST: Cristiano Ronaldo (Portugal) – 117 goals

Obviously. If Ronaldo decides to play on beyond the 2022 World Cup, then it doesn’t bear thinking about how many goals he’ll boast on his Portugal record when he hangs up his boots.

Portugal's Ronaldo scores at Euro 2020.
Soccer Football – Euro 2020 – Group F – Portugal v France – Puskas Arena, Budapest, Hungary – June 23, 2021 Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo celebrates scoring their first goal Pool via REUTERS/Laszlo Balogh

Talk about a frightening line-up

Imagine lining up with an XI that boasts a combined 597 goals. Absolute madness.

You know it’s a team-sheet that has an extraordinary eye for goal when not only Messi, Ronaldo and Neymar are standing over the free-kicks, but even the darn goalkeeper is too.

There’s also a lovely global range to the XI with players representing countries from Europe, South America, Asia and the Middle East sharing the dressing room.

Daei on the ball for Iran.
Iran’s Ali Daei is slide tackled by Bahrain’s Mohamed Salmeen during the playoff game for third and fourth place at the Asian Cup in Beijing August 6, 2004. REUTERS/Andrew Wong ASW/TW

And while sadly we don’t have the time machine necessary to make an actual match with this XI take place, it’s still pretty easy to imagine just how terrified defenders would be lining up against it.

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