The 20-year club
When goalkeeper Shay Given made his 134th senior appearance for Republic of Ireland in Tuesday’s friendly against Belarus, he joined an exclusive group of players whose international careers have spanned over 20 years. Now 40, Given’s first international appearance came against Russia on 27 March 1996, meaning Tuesday's friendly against Belarus saw him surpass two decades’ service for the national team.
FIFA.com takes a look at some of the remarkable few who went on to win caps over 20 years after making their international debut.
World Cup veterans and record-holders
When it comes to incredible longevity at international level, one giant name instantly springs to mind: Lothar Matthaus. The 1991 FIFA World Player of the Year, capped 150 times for Germany, made his final international appearance at UEFA EURO 2000, 20 years and six days after making his debut. While he won a plethora of titles and personal honours in his trophy-laden career, captaining his country to the 1990 FIFA World Cup™ remains Matthaus’ personal highlight.
“The period around the 1990 World Cup really was the best part of my entire career,” Matthaus told FIFA.com in 2015. “The world’s most talented players were going toe-to-toe in Italy – so many international stars were there. It was only natural having that rivalry and challenge every weekend also made each of us stronger.”
While Matthaus maintains the record for the most games played at a FIFA World Cup finals (25), former Ecuador defender Ivan Hurtado boasts the accolade of featuring in the most qualifying matches (72). Like Matthaus, Hurtado’s international career surpassed the 20-year mark, calling it a day in October 2014, over 22 years after making his debut in 1992.
“If I’d ever said that I was going to play more World Cup qualifiers than anyone else, they’d have called me crazy,” he said in conversation with FIFA.com in 2015. “I could never have imagined that I’d end up holding the appearance record for such a demanding competition.”
An international career spanning 22 years is a truly remarkable feat – but Ecuador’s Hurtado is not the only one who can lay claim to such an achievement. Pat Jennings kept goal for Northern Ireland 119 times between 1964 and 1986, becoming the then-oldest player at a FIFA World Cup in his final game against Brazil at Mexico 86, aged 41.
"I started in 1964 and waited until 1982 before we qualified for the World Cup,” the former Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur shot-stopper told FIFA.com. “We had a great set-up at that time, we just did not give goals away. It was important we didn't give goals away because we didn't score many of them.”
Jennings’ record as the World Cup’s oldest player was eventually surpassed by Cameroon’s Roger Milla at USA 1994 and then later by Colombia goalkeeper Faryd Mondragon at Brazil 2014, who both had international careers that surpassed the 20-year mark.
“It's an honour for me to be here,” Mondragon, after becoming the oldest player to feature at the World Cup at 43 years and three days, told FIFA.com in 2014. “In claiming this record I'm a person who embodies Colombian football and Colombian football history.”
Other World Cup veterans whose senior international careers spanned over 20 years include goalkeeper Mark Schwarzer, who featured for Australia from 1993 to 2013, and Hossam Hassan, Egypt’s all-time leading scorer, who amassed his 68 goals between 1985 and 2006. “Playing in the World Cup is the dream of every player,” Hossam, who represented the Pharaohs at Italy 1990, told FIFA.com in 2013. “There aren’t words for what I experienced then.” European evergreensWhen it comes to Liechtenstein's football records, Mario Frick rules supreme. The country’s all-time record goalscorer and appearance holder, former Verona and Basel striker Frick brought an end to his international career in 2015, 21 years and 351 days after making his debut in 1993. “It was an emotional, perfect farewell,” Frick said after his final appearance for his country last year.
Like Frick, Finnish football legend Jari Litmanen also holds the accolade of recording the most caps and goals for his country over a 21-year period. Regarded as one of the finest players never to reach a major international tournament, the attacking midfielder turned out 137 times for Finland, netting 32 goals.
While he lifted a multitude of major trophies at club level for giants such as Ajax and Liverpool, claiming a combined four European titles at those clubs, Litmanen was never able to showcase his talents on the biggest international stages due to Finland’s failure to qualify for a major international tournament.
“I always felt great pride in wearing my country's colours and always strove to give everything to lead them as high as possible. It just wasn't enough,” said Litmanen, speaking to FIFA.com in December 2015. “Many of my team-mates took part in European Championships and World Cups; I consoled myself as best I could, by telling myself that at least I had a holiday.”