Whether he lifts the trophy or not, Argentina captain Lionel Messi is set to end the 2022 World Cup with a record that has gone unbroken for almost a quarter of a century.
With 24 matches played at men’s World Cup finals under his belt going into this year’s semifinals, Messi needs to make just two more appearances in Qatar to become the player with the most appearances made in tournament history.
As and when Messi takes to the pitch for Tuesday’s semifinal against Croatia, the 34-year-old forward will equal the career record of Germany great Lothar Matthaus, who made 25 World Cup appearances for his country. Win or lose against Croatia, Messi will then almost certainly break Matthaus’ record in Qatar when he either features in Saturday’s third-place playoff at Khalifa International Stadium or Sunday’s final at Lusial Iconic Stadium.
Matthaus’ World Cup record has stood for 24 years, since he made his 25th and last appearance for Germany at France ’98 where, coincidentally, Die Mannschaft were knocked out by Croatia at the quarterfinal stage. A mainstay of the midfield and defence firstly for West Germany and then for the re-unified nation of Germany, Matthaus’ 25 appearances came across five World Cup finals between 1982 and 1998.
It was while he played at Inter Milan, either side of his two spells at Bayern Munich, that Matthaus lifted the World Cup for West Germany as their captain at Italia ’90. Later that year, he won the Ballon d’Or, and the following year he became the first player to be named FIFA World Player of the Year. Although Messi’s combined tally of Ballon d’Or and FIFA awards stands at nine and counting, that shouldn’t detract from the fact that Matthaus was one of the greatest players of his generation and a worthy holder of the appearance record for so long.
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The men’s World Cup all-time appearance list
Ahead of the Qatar 2022 semifinals, Messi can already claim to have played more times at the men’s World Cup finals (24) than any other active player, with Cristiano Ronaldo (22 games) the next of his contemporaries on the overall list.
Messi is joint-second with Miroslav Klose, the tournament’s all-time top goal scorer with 16 goals across 24 matches at four World Cups, including winning the whole thing in 2014.
Both Messi and Klose are one game above Italian legend Paolo Maldini, who played 23 times for Italy at the finals though never actually managed to win the trophy — finishing as runner-up with the Azzurri in 1994 after previously collecting a bronze medal in 1990. Maldini retired from international football after the 2002 tournament, but he was still playing for AC Milan when Italy became world champions in 2006.
Messi overtook his idol Diego Maradona during the course of the 2022 tournament to become the holder of the Argentina national-team record for World Cup appearances. Maradona, who led his country to glory in 1986, represented the Albiceleste on 21 occasions at the World Cup — a tally Messi overtook when he played against Poland in their final group stage game.
Women’s World Cup appearance records
Messi still has some way to go if he wishes to surpass the all-time record at a FIFA World Cup.
Indeed, the Paris Saint-Germain star will need to play on until 2030 if he wishes to even match the record of Brazil midfielder Formiga, who represented her nation at seven finals (1995, 1999, 2003, 2007, 2011, 2015, 2019).
Messi will also need to take part in at least one further World Cup if he wishes to draw level with the all-time Women’s World Cup appearance-record holder, with Kristine Lilly of the United States playing 30 games across five finals between 1991 and 2007.
Lilly also won the World Cup twice with the USWNT, in 1991 and 1999, and also collected bronze medals in 1995, 2003 and 2007 — more podium finishes than any other player in history.
Messi to break record for most men’s World Cup appearances