Very few players get to play in the World Cup finals on five occasions. Only three have been named in their National Team’s squad five times and only two of those played in all five. However, at this year’s World Cup in Russia, one player has missed out on setting a unrivalled record in World Cup appearances.
Gianluigi Buffon is that player and the only thing broken this summer is his heart after the Azzurri missed out on qualification after a two-legged play-off defeat against Sweden. Italy are four-time winners, but Buffon had been named in their squad on five separate occasions. Had they qualified, he would have broken the record for the most trips to World Cup Finals.
Buffon is widely regarded as one of the greatest keepers of all time and his side’s failure to qualify was a blow to those who desperately wanted to see him break the record for World Cup call-ups. He was an unused squad player in the 1998 World Cup but featured in four more as Italy’s starting goalkeeper.
He was between the posts for the Italians’ finest hour of recent times, the 2006 World Cup, which they won. He kept a record five clean sheets in that tournament and conceded only two goals, neither of which were from open play.
With 175 international caps, Buffon is also the most capped player in the history of the Italian national team and the fourth-most capped male international footballer of all time. He even holds the record for the most appearances for Italy as captain with 79. Football can be a cruel mistress, and nothing is crueller than not seeing Buffon at this year’s tournament.
If he had played in either 1998 or this summer, he would have joined two players in featuring in five World Cups. The first to set the record was Mexican goalkeeper Antonia Carbajal, now known in his homeland as “El Cinco Copas” after his achievement.
Carbajal made his international debut in the 1950 World Cup against hosts Brazil, becoming the youngest keeper at the tournament. He didn’t make as many appearances as some; he featured just once in 1954 and three times in 1958. He made his record fifth tournament in 1966, setting a record many felt at the time could never be beaten.
A young Lothar Matthaus made his debut for West Germany in the 1980 European Championships and managed two games at the 1982 World Cup as a youngster. Few could imagine what the powerful midfielder player would go on to achieve in the game, but he ended up appearing in four more World Cup finals.
Lothar Matthaus – By Foto: Udo Grimberg, Lizenz: Creative Commons by-sa-3.0 de, CC BY-SA 3.0 de,
He played in the 1986 final as his West German side lost 3-2 to Argentina, although his performance shackling Diego Maradona was well documented. In 1990, he once again made the final, this time as captain of his country. Argentina awaited in the final again but a feisty affair saw West Germany emerge as 1-0 winners. He hoisted the trophy above his head just months before his country was unified as one.
By 1994, he had dropped back to sweeper and travelled to the USA but Germany were disappointingly eliminated by Bulgaria. It was widely believed he would retire from football but, in 1998, he made a shock return to the fold in place of injured sweeper Matthias Sammer. He came off the bench to play against Yugoslavia and, in doing so, joined Carbajal on that illustrious list of players with five World Cup Finals under their belt.
Had it not been for a cruel twist of fate, Rafael Marquez could well be heading into his sixth successive World Cup. The Mexican defender made his debut for his country in February 1997, although it was later suggested that coach Bora Milutinovic wanted to call up Cesar Marquez instead, with both players featuring for Atlas. Subsequently, he was not chosen for the 1998 World Cup but he was back for the Confederations Cup in 1999.
In 2002, Marquez was named captain of Mexico, an honour he took to the 2006, 2010 and 2014 tournaments, making him the first man to captain his country at four World Cup finals. He’s 38 now and back at Atlas where it all began in 1996. He is by no means a shoe-in for the Mexico squad this tournament, but he has played recently and is amongst those expected to be under consideration when the squads are announced. It would be remarkable for a player to play at five tournaments when he’d been eligible for six, but it remains to be seen if he will join his countrymen in the unique achievement.
Rafael Marquez – By Marcello Casal Jr/Agência Brasil – , CC BY 3.0 br,
Lothar Matthaus also holds the records for the most appearances in matches at World Cup finals, with 25 in total. Fellow countryman Miroslav Klose is next with 24 and Paolo Maldini third with 23.
This year’s tournament may provide the opportunity for two players to tie with Maldini if their country can make it to the final, and one of those players is arguably the World’s best right now and perhaps rightly deserves to join these illustrious names.
Lionel Messi will always be talked about as one of the greatest players the World Cup has ever seen. His country, Argentina, have been a favourite of punters in almost every tournament they’ve appeared in, and could provide a reliable option for anything from simple wagers to high-odds accumulators once again. Naturally, Messi, along with Sergio Agüero and Angel di Maria, will be central to Argentina’s World Cup chances.
Messi has played at three World Cups, 2006, 2010 and 2014, making 15 appearances in total, and he scored the goals that ensured his country would be at the top of the table again this summer. He’s still only 30-years old so he has an outside chance of not only equalling the records we’ve already discussed but smashing through 24 total matches.
Fellow countryman Javier Maschareno has also played in three finals, although he has 16 appearances to his name. He played every minute of the 2006 tournament in South Africa and, although this is likely to be his final tournament, he stands a very real chance of drawing alongside Paolo Maldini if Argentina get through to the final. Whether Argentina can succeed or not will become a point of much debate closer to the game, especially among UK bookmakers; tipster sites already have the South American nation at 10/1 for the win.
The tournament of 2018 is likely to be one of the closest fought battles on record, as no one side stands out head and shoulders above the rest. Whilst it is a weakened England side that fly to Russia, Argentina, Belgium, Germany and France are all in form and looking to make an impression. Who knows, perhaps the first player to reach six tournaments will be a teenager in one of those squads, unknown right now but set to become a household name for many years to come.