Longest international career by a football player

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They say that all good things come to an end, and for Andorran footballer Ildefons Lima that time was September 2023.

That was when he decided, at the age of 43, to bring the curtain down on his international football career – ending a stint in the Andorran national side that began with his debut against Estonia way back in 1997.

Lima has even been recognised by the Guinness Book of Records for his longevity in the beautiful game, having been handed the accolade for the longest international career by a male player. The record for a female footballer is even more incredible – more on that later.

Unfortunately for Lima, he didn’t quite get the fairytale ending he was hoping for – he was subbed off after 23 minutes as Andorra slipped to a 0-3 defeat to Switzerland, although there was a humorous touch given that his replacement, Ricard Fernandez Betriu, wasn’t even born when Lima made his international debut.

The 43-year-old can at least rest easy, safe in the knowledge that his record seems almost certain to last for decades to come. For context, Cristiano Ronaldo – who has won more international caps than any other male player, would have to play until 2029 to match Lima’s feat, at which point he would have celebrated his 44th birthday.

So who has Lima beaten to the accolade of longest international career by a male player?

 

 

IVAN HURTADO (22 YEARS, FIVE MONTHS)

Debut Final Match
May 1992 (vs Costa Rica) October 2014 (vs El Salvador)

So adored is Ivan Hurtado in his native Ecuador that he now sits as a member of the National Assembly in the country – a position of political power.

During his playing days, Hurtado’s career at club level took in stints all over the world, although perhaps it was his time at Mexican giants Tigres for which he is best known.

But the former defender’s career will be best remembered by statisticians of the beautiful game – upon retirement from Ecuador duty in 2014, Hurtado had enjoyed an international career longer than any other player past or present.

As if that landmark wasn’t enough, Hurtado is also Ecuador’s youngest ever player – making his international bow at 17 years, 285 days, and he’s played in more World Cup qualifiers than anyone else.

ESSAM EL-HADARY (22 YEARS, THREE MONTHS)

Debut Final Match
March 1996 (vs South Korea) June 2018 (vs Saudi Arabia)

Although perhaps little known outside of Africa, the legend of Essam El-Hadary lives on in his native Egypt.

He enjoyed a 22-year career between the sticks for Egypt, making his debut in 1996 and playing on until his final game at the 2018 World Cup, in which he saved a penalty against Saudi Arabia. At the age of 45, El-Hadary would also become the oldest player in World Cup history.

So iconic is El-Hadary in world football that his gloves from that game against Saudi Arabia are now housed in the FIFA museum.

HUSSEIN ABDULGHANI (22 YEARS, TWO MONTHS)

Debut Final Match
September 1996 (vs Zambia) November 2018 (vs Jordan)

A whopping 22 years and two months separating the first and last international caps of Hussein Abdulghani.

During his career with Saudi Arabia, the defender appeared at three World Cups and won the 1996 Asian Cup, to go with a club career played out mostly in his homeland with short stints in Switzerland and Bulgaria.

Abdulghani was twice named as the best Arab player at the World Cup, in both 1998 and 2006.

RAFAEL MARQUEZ (21 YEARS, FIVE MONTHS)

Debut Final Match
February 1997 (vs Ecuador) July 2018 (vs Brazil)

There’s a whole host of amazing stats about the career of Rafael Marquez – it would take 21 years and five months to type them all out!

That’s how long his Mexico career lasted, from making his debut against Ecuador in 1997 to his curtain call at the 2018 World Cup.

He is the only player to have captained his country at five World Cups and one of a select band of just eight to have appeared at five editions of the tournament.

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