Which player has made most appearances at the FIFA World Cup finals?
At the time of writing, the player who has made the most appearances at the FIFA World Cup finals is the former captain of Germany – and, before that, West Germany – Lothar Matthäus. Matthäus has the distinction of being the most capped German player of all time, having represented his country on 150 occasions, including 23 prior to German reunification in October, 1990. Over two decades after his retirement, Matthäus remains one of just six players to have played in five World Cups and his 25 appearances at the global showpiece remain a record.
Matthäus made his World Cup debut at Estadio El Molinón in Gijón, Spain on June 20, 1982, replacing Paul Breitner after 61 minutes during a 4-1 victory over Chile in the first group stage. He also replaced Karl-Heinz Rummenigge after 66 minutes of a controversial 1-0 win over Austria at the same venue five days later, subsequently dubbed the ‘Disgrace of Gijón’, but took no further part in the second group or knockout stages.
Four years later, Matthäus was a regular starter in Mexico, scoring a late winner against Morocco in the round of 16 and again in a penalty shoot-out against the hosts in the quarter-finals. West Germany reached the final, as they had done in 1982, but lost 3-2 to Argentina. At Italia ’90, which was the last World Cup to feature a team from West Germany, Matthäus, as captain, enjoyed his finest hour. He scored twice in the opening fixture against Yugoslavia – once with his left foot and once with his right – to lay the foundations of a unbeaten run to the final, which West Germany won 1-0, courtesy of a late Andreas Brehme penalty.
In 1994, in the United States, featured as a sweeper, although he did score a penalty against Bulgaria in the quarter-final, which Germany ultimately lost 2-1. In 1998, in France, Matthäus fulfilled a similar role, at the age of 37, to cement his reputation as one of the most talented, versatile and intelligent footballers of all time, both in midfield and defence.