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Most capped European players of all time

Thu 27 May 2021 | 7:30

Who in Europe has served his country the most? Who are the most capped European footballers in football history? Follow us below as we take a look at both club and international careers of these footballing greats, whose names will echo in the football halls of fame forever.

While many of us football enthusiasts dream of one day playing football professionally, or even dream of playing good football, the real professionals and elites have much higher dreams. There are those who aim to win trophies and honors with their respective clubs and there are those who aim for international glory. From Brazil’s Pele to Argentina’s late Diego Maradona, we have seen many an icons make history with on their international duties by either winning a crucial match for their side or by making the most appearances for their nation.

With the Euros edging ever closer as the 2020-21 season ends, professional footballers are readying themselves to battle for the title of European champions. All national teams in the Green Continent are one by one announcing their shortlists for the players who are called up for international duty. This biannual occasion has certainly got many wondering who the most capped European soccer players of all time are. So follow us below as we present to you the players who have served their nations the most, while having a rather detailed look at their journey in football.

Most capped European football players ever

From

Real Madrid

’s Sergio Ramos and Iker Casillas serving and winning the world cup for Spain, to Juventus’ Cristiano Ronaldo single-handedly making Portugal title contenders in Europe, there are many players who have managed to have their own unique place in the footballing hall of fame. But not many have managed to reach such heights regarding the sheer number of appearances. Here is the list of

most capped European players of all time

.

Anders Svensson - Sweden

  • Caps: 148

  • First cap: 27 November 1999

  • Last cap: 19 November 2013

First on the list of the

most capped European soccer players of all time

is the former Sweden midfielder Anders Svensson. Sweden have always been one of the most respected and formidable sides in football, with many footballing legends such as the amazing Zlatan Ibrahimovic putting their nation on the radar throughout the years. While many were hoping to see the

AC Milan

striker get back onto the pitch as a Sweden international, there is only one name that shines amongst other

Sweden

internationals as one of the most capped European players of all time and that is obviously Svensson.

Anders Gunnar Svensson, born in July 1976, is former professional football player who spent most of his career back home in Sweden with Elfsborg, making more than 400 appearances for the Swedish club. Of course people outside of Sweden might know him for his days at Southampton, whom he joined for a little less than a million Euros back in 2001. The Elfsborg academy graduate achieved several trophies with the Swedish club and got to make his very first international appearance on 27 November 1999 when he was 23 years 4 months and 10 days old.

Comparing the age Svensson made his international debut with the age that current players make their debuts, one could imagine how long the former Sweden international had to play for his nation to become one of the most capped European football players ever. Unfortunately for the now 44-year-old, he didn’t get to win any major trophies with his national team, but that didn’t stop him from making a total of 148 international appearances. Almost half of these appearances were international friendlies and the former central midfielder still managed to score 19 goals and provide 6 assists in the process.

Lothar Matthaus - Germany

  • Caps: 150

  • First cap: 14 June 1980

  • Last cap” 20 June 2000

One could hardly forget the days Lothar Matthaus used to dominate the midfield in Europe’s top leagues. The now 60-year-old German former footballer started his career at

Borussia Monchengladbach

, where he spent five years of his life serving the club that had signed him from 1.FC Herzogenaurach for free. He was only less than three games short of reaching a total of 200 appearances when he got to sign for

Bayern Munich

for €1.2 million in 1984.

Matthaus managed to score an amazing 48 goals for Monchengladbach in the process, which shows the class and unbelievable lethality the German midfielder had during his playing days. Even though he is referred to as a central or defensive midfielder nowadays, he used to play mainly as a sweeper at Monchengladbach, a role that is long obsolete and many youngsters are not even familiar with this role. The former Germany international went on to play for Inter and Metro Stars before hanging up his boots in 2001.

As one of the

most capped European players of all time

, Matthaus actually made his international debut for West Germany, as the country is still divided into two parts during his playing days. After appearing for West Germany for ten years with his initial debut dating back to 1980 when he was 19 years old, his nation finally got reunited and the country of Germany was once again founded in 1990. He made a total of 150 appearances as one of the most capped European footballers in football history, scoring 23 goals and providing 18 assists in the process.

The brilliance of the immensely versatile Matthaus helped West Germany win the 1990 World Cup in Italy, with the midfielder captaining his national team to the final itself. Such a glory saw Matthaus also win the 1990 Ballon d’Or, leaving no doubt that he was the best midfielder and footballer in the world that year and still is considered to be one of the greatest midfielders of all time.

Being one of the most capped European soccer players of all time, he took part in four Euros from 1980 to 2000 and five different World Cups from 1982 to 1998, but only managed to win each of the titles once.

Martin Reim - Estonia

  • Caps: 157

  • First cap: 3 June 1992

  • Last cap: 6 June 2009

Perhaps Martin Reim was not as internationally successful as the likes of Lothar Matthaus, but the now 50-year-old Estonian former midfielder is certainly loved and cherished back in his home country of Estonia. Reim spent almost all of his career in Estonia, playing for clubs such as Flora, Norma, Lelle and Sport Tallinn. Of course those who know him better might remember him for his days at Flora, where he spent more than 14 years, making more than 350 appearances for the Estonian club, scoring an impressive 46 goals and providing only a single assist in the process.

While his career as whole can’t live up to the expectations of many, as one might expect to see a world-class player on the list of

most capped European footballers in football history

, Reim certainly did his part as an elite both at club and international levels. He is a 7-time Estonian champion, who also has 2 Estonian Cups and 4 Estonian Super Cups to his name. The versatile midfielder was also named Estonia’s Footballer of the Year back in 1995, three years after he made his international debut in 1991 when he was 21 years old.

During his time serving for the Estonia national team, Reims made a total of 157 appearances, scoring 14 goals and providing a single assist in the process. One certainly can’t expect to see Reim win the Euros with Estonia when footballing giants such as

France

, England, Germany and

Spain

exist, but he certainly is a national treasure who has served for his nation both as a footballer and as a football manager.

He did in fact get to rise up the ranks by first managing the U18, U21 and U23 national teams before finally making a break and managing Estonia national team from 2016 to 2019. Even though he didn’t get to win any major trophies during his managerial career with Estonia, he will still be remembered and cherished for being his nation’s most capped player and one of the most capped European players of all time.

Iker Casillas - Spain

  • Caps: 167

  • First cap: 3 June 2000

  • Last cap: 1 June 2016

There are only a handful of legendary goalkeepers in the world that are as loved and idolized as the great Iker Casillas. One could hardly forget his days at Real Madrid, where he joined the ranks of Raul and other Real Madrid greats as a young and inexperienced goalkeeper. He showed his unbelievable maturity, strength, motivation and determinism from the very first day that he joined the squad and got to become both a club and national legend in only several years.

Always regarded as one of the greatest goalkeepers of all time, Casillas started out his journey at the Real Madrid youth academy, where he slowly rose up the ranks playing for the club’s U17, U18, U19 and all the other reserves sides, before finally joining the seniors in 1999. It didn’t take long for the goalkeeper who is now one of the

most capped European football players ever

, to attract the attention of everyone both in Spain and all the other countries as well. This successful and surprising start to his professional career, led Casillas to make his international debut on 3 June 2000, only a year after his club debut in 1999.

The young and aspiring goalkeeper was 19 years and 14 days old when he appeared on his first cap. Not many players get to win as many trophies as Casillas won during his playing days as he quite literally won it all through the years.

During his illustrious career as a Madridista and a Spain international, now 40-year-old won five La Liga titles, two Copas del Rey, four Supercopas de Espana, two Intercontinental Cups, three Champions League titles, two UEFA Supercups, the FIFA Club World Cup, two Euros and the 2010 World Cup. He also later added two Portuguese Super Cups and the Portuguese league title to his full trophy cabinet during his spell at Porto.

Surely Casillas will forever be remembered in the footballing hall of fame not only as one of the most capped European players of all time and for all of his trophies, but also for his leadership, kindness and sportsmanship, which made even the fans of his opponents fall in love with him.

Vitalijs Astafjevs - Latvia

  • Caps: 167

  • First cap: 26 August 1992

  • Last cap: 17 November 2010

Former Latvia international Vitalijs Astafjevs had actually held the top spot on the list of most capped European players of all time before being overtaken by Juventus and Italy goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon in 2017. While Astafjevs didn’t get to have an illustrious career in Europe’s top leagues, he did get to serve his nation for almost twenty years, being chosen as Latvia’s Footballer of the Year on three occasions.

The now 50-year-old spent his career playing for numerous clubs , but he might be remembered the most for his days at

Bristol Rovers

, where he spent four years as the club’s main defensive midfielder. The UdSSR-born Latvian began his international journey back in August 1992, when his made his first international debut at the age of 21 years 4 months and 23 days old under the management of Janis Gillis.

He went on to make 167 appearances for Latvia, as many as Iker Casillas made for Spain, scoring 16 goals in the process as well. Having worked as assistant manager at Skonto Riga from 2010 to 2014 and also as Latvia national team’s assistant manager from 2013 to 2018, Astafjevs is currently working as a coach at Riga FC II.

Cristiano Ronaldo - Portugal

  • Caps: 173

  • First cap: 20 August 2003

  • Latest cap: 30 March 2021 (counting)

Cristiano Ronaldo

, the name that almost anyone knows nowadays. Almost no one, except his iconic rival

Lionel Messi

, has ever reached the same heights as the Portuguese striker, who has dominated the world of football alongside his Argentinian counterpart. At the age of 36, he is still going strong as one of the best strikers in the world, with a market value of over €50 million. Ronaldo started his professional career as a young and aspiring winger at Sporting CP, where he used to showcase his brilliant dribbling abilities and his phenomenal explosiveness.

Many of the world’s most decorated clubs were after Ronaldo’s signature, including Arsenal who were closer than an inch to signing the player who would later go on to be one of the greatest of all time. But it was Manchester United who got to sign him in the end, and the rest is history. With the exception of the World Cup, Ronaldo has won it all, both as an individual and as a team member.

With 5 Ballons d’Or to his name, Cristiano is also on the list of most capped European players of all time, having made a total of 173 international appearance since his international debut back in August 2003. Many are surely eagerly awaiting to see the prolific striker play in the Euros this summer and the Portuguese superstar is also clearly excited to serve his nation in yet another international tournament.

Both his club and international careers have been phenomenal as Ronaldo has scored a jaw-dropping 103 goals in 173 appearances. He is in fact edging closer than ever to becoming the highest goal scorer in the world at international level as he is only six goals behind Iran’s Ali Daei. Will Ronaldo finally break the Iranian’s record? We will have to wait and see.

Gianluigi Buffon - Italy

  • Caps: 176

  • First cap: 29 October 1997

  • Last cap: 23 March 2018

Gianluigi Buffon is one of the few goalkeepers who could ever match the sheer class of Iker Casillas as many believe that the Italian “masterpiece” is the best goalkeeper in history. Buffon actually held the top spot of the most capped European players of all time list for quite a while before being overtaken by Sergio Ramos. The 43-year-old has been at the pinnacle of football for quite a long time, serving Juventus and Italy for more than twenty years.

Of course it’s been more than three years since his last international cap, but he is still considered to be one of the best goalkeepers in the world. Buffon started his career at Parma and later moved to

Juventus

for a massive €53 million, which made him the then most expensive goalkeeper in the world, a record which has been broken several times since. He made his international debut back in October 1997 under the management of the late Cesare Maldini when he was only 19 years old.  

The Juventus veteran’s presence was pure blessing from God as Italy had finally found the solid wall they always wanted. Buffon’s luck at winning major honors with the Italian national team was not as good as he might have wanted, but he managed to get his hands on the 2006 World Cup and make his mark as one of the greatest goalkeepers of all time.

Sergio Ramos - Spain

  • Caps: 180

  • First cap: 26 March 2005

  • Latest cap: 31 March 2021

Topping our list of most capped European players of all time is Spain’s probably greatest defender of all time, Sergio Ramos, who has literally won everything there is to win alongside his former international and club teammate Iker Casillas. The Spaniard is not only an unbreakable wall at the back, he is also one of the most lethal defenders in the world, having scored more than an unbelievable 100 goals throughout his club career. Even some forwards don’t get to reach such numbers.

The current Real Madrid captain made his first international appearance back in 2005, when he was an unexperienced aspiring 18-year-old. Since then he has turned into one of the greatest center-backs in history, having already made 180 international appearances and scored 23 goals. He was certainly looking forward to further improving his stats and upping his tally in the Euros this summer, but he was not called up for international duty due to his injuries this season.

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