When it comes to international soccer, appearances, goals scored and trophies won are usually the biggest indicators of a successful career, and rightly so. But perhaps the most elusive achievement for an international footballer is appearing at five World Cups.
First, it requires an international career of at least 16 years. Around 30 or so active international players made their debut for their country before the 2006 World Cup. A player must also be on a team that qualifies for five successive World Cups — something only 13 countries have achieved.
Even long-serving legends like Pelé, Miroslav Klose and Andrés Iniesta only appeared at four World Cups.
In fact, only Germany's Lothar Matthäus and Mexico's Antonio Carbajal and Rafael Márquez have appeared at five men's World Cups, while Italian keeper Gianluigi Buffon has played at the World Cup four times and has been named in the squad five times.
This year, four more players will be (barring any shocking changes in the next few months) appearing at their fifth World Cup, while another will likely be in the squad for the fifth time. Among them are two superstars, a pair of Concacaf veterans and an aging defender still active on the international scene. Can you guess who they are?
Players Who Will Be Appearing At Their Fifth World Cup
(listed in descending order of international appearances)
Cristiano Ronaldo (Portugal)
After scoring seven times during World Cup qualifying, 21-year-old Cristiano Ronaldo became the youngest goal scorer ever for Portuguese at the World Cup when he found the back of the net against Iran during the group stage in 2006. Sixteen years later, Ronaldo is the all-time leading international goal scorer. There were a couple of bumps in the road during qualification, but Ronaldo and Portugal will be back at the World Cup again this winter.
Sergio Ramos (Spain)
Ramos started three matches at right back during the 2006 World Cup as he watched Spain unceremoniously exit in the round of 16. Then over the next half-decade, the Real Madrid man was part of arguably the greatest run in international soccer history as Spain won two European Championships and a World Cup during a 35-match unbeaten run. Ramos missed Euro 2020 through injury, but will likely be back in the starting XI at Qatar.
Andrés Guardado (Mexico)
Guardado was just 19 years old when he started Mexico's round of 16 match against Argentina at the 2006 World Cup — already his eighth international appearance for his country. Since then, he has appeared in all but one of Mexico's World Cup matches, spanning three tournaments and a dozen years. The versatile midfielder was not in the Mexico squad for the latest round of qualifying or for the Gold Cup in 2021, but it's hard to see the Real Betis player left out of the squad in Qatar.
Lionel Messi (Argentina)
Messi is undoubtedly one of the greatest players of his generation and of all time, but his only trophy in 17-plus years of senior international football is the 2021 Copa América crown. Can that change in 2022? Argentina finally has a solid midfield and a strong backline, plus the likes of Gonzalo Higuaín and Sergio Agüero are retired, which means no more shoe-horning strikers into an attack-heavy lineup. Messi will be 35 in June, so a sixth World Cup is not out of the question, but this feels like his last chance to become world champion.
Guillermo Ochoa (Mexico)
After serving as a backup at the 2006 and 2010 World Cups, Ochoa assumed the starting role in 2014 and was one of the tournament's standout performers. He had a similarly strong performance in 2018, although Mexico was once again dispatched in the round of 16. The 2022 edition of the tournament will be the fifth time Ochoa has been selected for the Mexican squad but will be only the third tournament in which he has appeared in a match
OCHOAAAA!México keeper Guillermo Ochoa's heroics vs Brazil is No. 9️⃣2️⃣ in our Most Memorable FIFA World Cup Moments countdown. #100Moments pic.twitter.com/a1pgahkiPU
— FOX Soccer (@FOXSoccer) March 14, 2018