Sergio Ramos wrote his name into international football’s record books this week when he led Spain in their 1-1 Euro 2020 qualifying draw against Norway.
The Oslo outing may not have ended in team victory but saw the Real Madrid defender reach a remarkable personal feat – surpassing Iker Casillas as La Roja’s most capped player. It was his 168th appearance for his nation.
Having made his debut in 2005, Ramos has played on average 12 games for Spain a year, chipping in with 21 goals and playing his part in lifting a lot of trophies. He was the cornerstone of their 2008 and 2012 European Championships and 2010 World Cup triumphs and has also formed the backbone of a Los Blancos side which has continued to win despite being a shadow of former sides that imbued swagger and style.
And Ramos is where we start our look at the top 10 active players who are record appearance makers for their respective nations.
SERGIO RAMOS (Spain, Caps: 168)
Football’s equivalent of marmite; you either love him or hate him. Even if it’s the latter though, you can’t help but applaud his feats, particularly for Spain, for whom Ramos is simply royalty.
Ascending to 168 caps and surpassing the iconic Casillas is testament to Ramos’ enduring worth. He’s not particularly skilled, fast, physical or technically gifted, but he is the ultimate warrior and a natural-born leader who inspires all around him.
A player who’ll certainly lay it all on the line for his team, even if he might also cross that line repeatedly.
After overtaking his former Real team-mate, Ramos, still just 33, will feel Egypt’s Ahmed Hassan’s record tally of 184 caps is easily attainable.
CRISTIANO RONALDO (Portugal, Caps: 162)
Doesn’t take kindly to being upstaged but perhaps he’ll be less irked given the limelight has been stolen by former colleague and close friend, Ramos.
The Juventus star impressively (most things in his career have been) moved into joint 14th place for most caps following Monday’s 2-1 defeat to Ukraine with Mexico’s Andres Guardado. Only Ramos, Kuwait’s Bader Al Mutawa and Oman’s Ahmed Mubarak (both 173 caps) ahead are active, with the man in top spot, Egypt’s Hassan, only 22 in front.
That target is well within reach, as is Ali Daei’s 109 international goals for Iran. Ronaldo, in second place, is only 14 behind following his 95th goal, a penalty, for the Selecao in Monday’s defeat.
You have to feel the relentless and prolific Portuguese won’t retire until he’s chased down both.
DIEGO GODIN (Uruguay, Caps: 132)
A colossus for club and country and, unsurprisingly, a giant in international football’s pantheon of legends. After nine years as the rock upon which Atletico Madrid’s recent success was built, Godin took tentative steps towards the twilight of his career when he moved to Milan with Inter this summer.
And yet, he is transforming fortunes for the Nerazzurri too, who have started the Serie A season brilliantly under Antonio Conte. That they have Godin in their ranks is no coincidence.
The 33-year-old battler fittingly broke Uruguay’s appearance record earlier this year, overtaking Maxi Pereira, and was part of the La Celeste side that lifted the 2011 Copa America crown.
ALEXIS SANCHEZ (Chile, Caps: 132)
Sanchez’s travails at Manchester United and his final season at Arsenal hint at a bright career burning out, which is hardly surprising considering he’s regularly flown all over the globe to represent Chile since making his senior debut, aged just 17.
And while he can be accused of hitting a lukewarm period in his club career during recent years, Sanchez has continued to blaze a trail for Chile. He played a pivotal role as they lifted a first major honour, the Copa America, in 2015, then they became back to back champions the following year.
He’s amassed a mammoth 132 caps and scored 43 goals, netting at a rate of better than one in three.
JAN VERTONGHEN (Belgium, Caps: 118)
Besieged by injury woes and suggestions of being shoved closer to the exit door at Tottenham, yet Vertonghen continues to be a bastion of brilliance for Belgium.
The versatile Spurs defender has been a stalwart for both club and country for nearly a decade; a tough, uncompromising, agile defender who is also more than useful in attack.
The 32-year-old has 41 goals from 518 career club games, as well as nine strikes in 118 caps for the Rode Duivels. He is their leading appearance maker, overtaking attacking midfielder Jan Ceulemans two years ago.
MAREK HAMSIK (Slovakia, Caps: 118)
It’s hard to stand out when you’re in the company of Diego Maradona, and yet Hamsik is in the rarefied position of actually surpassing the legendary Argentine.
Doing so when he broke El Pibe de Oro’s (The Golden Boy) Napoli goalscoring record in December 2017, and then his Partenopei appearance record the following year.
It helps that Hamsik is such a recognisable character with his trademark Mohawk and tattoo-clad torso. He catches the eye with his playmaking ability too, especially at international level where he led Slovakia to their first-ever World Cup finals in 2010 and maiden European Championships in 2016.
He is Slovakia’s most capped player and, earlier this year, overtook Robert Vittek as their top scorer with 24 goals.
ROBERT LEWANDOWSKI (Poland, Caps: 110)
A prolific plunderer of goals since his teens, the Pole has proven he is one of the deadliest finishers in football – amassing a haul of 387 goals in 585 career club games.
His 60 goals from 109 caps for his country is further evidence of just how staggering Lewandowski’s scoring feats are.
He has found the net over 200 times in the Bundesliga with Borussia Dortmund and has become even more lethal since joining Bayern Munich in 2014. He reached a century of goals in Germany’s top-flight quicker than any other foreign player, and is the league’s all-time leading foreign scorer.
A hat-trick against Armenia in October 2017 fittingly saw him surpass Wlodzimierz Lubanski as Poland’s record scorer.
ASAMOAH GYAN (Ghana, Caps: 109)
A colourful character on and off the field, but Gyan was deadly serious when it came to representing his country. The 33-year-old owns his own airline away from the pitch and he certainly soared on it during his prime, shining at both club and international level with the Black Stars.
His 51 goals during 109 Ghana caps are both records – UAE fans will remember him for scoring a staggering 123 goals in 123 games for Al Ain from 2011-15.
Gyan represented Ghana at three World Cups (2006, 2010 and 2014) and seven Africa Cup of Nations (2006, ‘08, ‘10, ‘12, ‘13, ‘15 and ’17).
He is the proud owner of six World Cup goals which makes him the top scoring African in the history of the competition.
GORAN PANDEV (Macedonia, Caps: 107)
Pandev is one of the longest-serving international footballers of all-time, never mind among still active players. The Macedonian magician resembles something of a slimmer Michael Cheika – coach of the Australian rugby team – but it is from the backwaters of Eastern Europe that he has forged a name for himself.
The 36-year-old made his name in Italy with Lazio, Inter Milan, Napoli and he is currently with Genoa, debuting for Macedonia in June 2001.
His national team service has stretched into a 19th year and, like Ronaldo, he owns both his country’s caps and goals record, finding the net 34 times.
EDIN DZEKO (Bosnia, Caps: 105)
The Bosnian striker is in good company alongside some greats of the game on 105 international caps – Billy Wright, Jurgen Kohler, Lucio, Stiliyan Petrov and Didier Drogba.
When you add in his contribution of goals to the cause, the Roma striker’s feats stand up even taller to scrutiny.
He has banged in 58 goals since making his Bosnia bow just over 12 years ago, meaning his sensational record puts him at netting better than a goal every two games.
He has more goals for his country than Gabriel Batistuta, Romario and Samuel Eto’o. In fact, only 29 players have scored more in history.
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The group which helps UEFA monitor instances of racism at matches across Europe will help it build a “legally safe” case to prosecute Bulgaria after the abusive chanting during their match against England on Monday night.
The Fare network had observers inside the Levski Stadium in Sofia who fed their information to UEFA delegates, and this along with television footage will form part of the evidence European football’s governing body uses when making decisions on any sanctions.
Football Association chairman Greg Clarke last night called for football to take a “zero tolerance” approach to racism after the Euro 2020 qualifier was marred by abusive chants directed towards England’s black players and staff throughout the match.
The Fare network’s executive director Piara Powar believes the match will prove a significant watermark and will raise questions about how a similar fixture is approached in future.
“We had observers at the match and they have an official role in the sense that they will have flagged up issues with the delegates and they will also have collected evidence of what we all saw through our TV screens,” he told the PA news agency.
“The fact that it was widespread racism cannot be in doubt and the issue now will be the evidence that UEFA needs to have a legally safe prosecution of the Bulgarians.
We can confirm that @England players were subjected to abhorrent racist chanting while playing in the #EURO2020 qualifier against Bulgaria.— The FA (@FA) October 14, 2019
This is unacceptable at any level of the game and our immediate focus is supporting the players and staff involved.
“That will partly be from us, and the footage from the broadcasters, so there’s no shortage of evidence.
“Given the debate that took place before this match, the focus on the Bulgarian fans and the widespread warnings that were issued, the concerns expressed by players, officials, it was quite shocking to see what took place. It seemed almost like the Bulgarian fans were determined to live up to the worst representation of themselves.”
The first step of UEFA’s anti-racism protocol was enacted as an announcement was made over the stadium’s public address system calling for the abusive chanting to stop.
It continued, and there was a further delay close to half-time. It is understood that this did not constitute the second step of the protocol, where the referee takes the players off the pitch temporarily.
The third and final step of the protocol is to abandon the fixture.
“There has to be a wider debate about, where we have a match like this, what should happen,” Powar added.
Not an easy situation to play in and not one which should be happening in 2019. Proud we rose above it to take three points but this needs stamping out. pic.twitter.com/jTnUGOa8z2— Marcus Rashford (@MarcusRashford) October 14, 2019
“These are real genuine dilemmas which are difficult to resolve – should UEFA have intervened and told the Bulgarians where to host this match? There are not many football associations around the world who would take that sort of interference.
“Should the England players and the English FA have refused to have played it given the fact all the predictions and all their concerns came true?
“Should Bulgaria now be eliminated from the competition, regardless of what the next step in the sanctioning process is?
“A lot of difficult questions UEFA will need to answer now, these are not easy issues to grapple with.”
UEFA rules appear to indicate that the punishment for Bulgaria would be to play their next home match behind closed doors, but there is likely to be huge pressure for the sanctions to be more severe than that.
Anti-racism campaign group Kick It Out called for a points deduction to be imposed or for Bulgaria to be expelled from the competition.
Provided by Press Association Sports
FA chairman Greg Clarke termed the Euro 2020 Qualifier between Bulgaria and England in Sofia as the most appalling night he has witnessed in his professional career.
England handed the hosts a crushing 6-0 loss on the night but that emphatic victory was overshadowed by controversy with racism rearing its ugly head.
The qualifying clash had to be stopped twice in the first half due to England players being subjected to racist chants by the Bulgaria fans. Racism had been a major talking point ahead of the clash with England’s players and team management issuing multiple statement about the course of action they would take should such a scenario occur.
Skipper Harry Kane had even mentioned the possibility of England walking off the pitch completely should they be subject to any racism in Sofia. In the end, England chose to play through despite the controversy on the night.
Speaking after the clash, Clarke called on UEFA to conduct a thorough investigation into the incidents of the night and with the FA chairman revealing that he had spoken to the players and the referee at half-time. See what else the FA chief said in the video above.