How Cristiano Ronaldo became the most capped male international footballer of all time

No one player has fostered the cult of the individual in modern football more fiercely than Cristiano Ronaldo.

“Records are my motivation,” the insatiable Portuguese stat-guzzler said before fulfilling his latest ambition in what he increasingly forgets is a team sport. “I want to become the most-capped player in history. That would make me proud.”

By spearheading Portugal’s attack against Liechtenstein on Thursday night, Ronaldo earned his 197th cap, surpassing the total set by the next most-capped male player, Kuwait’s Bader Al-Mutawa. It should be stressed that the multiple Olympic gold medallist and two-time World Cup champion Kristine Lilly racked up an astonishing 354 appearances for the US women’s national team.

Nevertheless, it marks yet another page in the record books painted a familiar shade of CR7. So, how has the omnipresent Portuguese international accrued such a staggering tally?

Cristiano Ronaldo, Christopher Martins, Maxime Chanot, Leandro Barreiro of LuxembourgCristiano Ronaldo, Christopher Martins, Maxime Chanot, Leandro Barreiro of Luxembourg

Cristiano Ronaldo (in the middle of the crush) has made more appearances and scored more goals against Luxembourg than any other nation / John Berry/GettyImages

Luxembourg are the only nation Ronaldo has racked up a double-digit appearance tally against, facing the tiny European country ten times over the years. That figure could soon rise to 11 as Portugal play Luxembourg again on Sunday and as Ronaldo said: “It doesn’t stop there. I still want to be called up very often.”

Luxembourg’s population of 640,000 is roughly 1,224 times smaller than Ronaldo’s Instagram following.

Ronaldo’s next most common foe is Portugal’s natural enemy; Spain. Real Madrid’s record goalscorer has faced his Iberian neighbours nine times, scoring three goals – although, it could have been four had Nani not been too overeager.

In a 4-0 thrashing of Spain five months after they were crowned world champions, Ronaldo left Gerard Pique with a mouthful of grass, rolled the ball away from Xabi Alonso and scooped a shot over Iker Casillas as he began to celebrate one of the best goals he had ever scored in his career.

However, the referee’s whistle sharply blew to recognise an offside offence; Nani had nodded the ball from on the goal line after straying beyond the deepest defender. Ronaldo, shockingly, did not take it well, ripping off his captain’s armband and heaving it onto the turf. Incidentally, 137 of Ronaldo’s caps have come as his team’s skipper – Joao Moutinho (146) is the only Portuguese man with more total appearances for his nation.


Cristiano Ronaldo has only scored more goals against Luxembourg (nine) than the seven he has against Sweden / JONATHAN NACKSTRAND/GettyImages

Perhaps unsurprisingly given the number of matches he has amassed against them, Luxembourg have conceded more Ronaldo goals (nine) and lost more games to Ronaldo (ten) than any other nation.

Lithuania, however, have only had the displeasure of coming up against Ronaldo three times yet still conceded seven goals. As a 19-year-old, Ronaldo won his seventh cap against the Baltic state in 2004, shortly before his first major tournament with Portugal in his home country. The then-teenager didn’t find the net against Lithuania in that June friendly but more than made up for it when Portugal were placed in the same qualifying group for Euro 2020.

Across two games with Lithuania, Ronaldo – comfortably into his mid-30s by then – scored seven goals, plundering four in Vilnius before bagging a treble in the reverse fixture in the Algarve. Lithuania are the only international team to have conceded more than one Ronaldo hat-trick.

Arguably Ronaldo’s most important trio came against Sweden – the other nation to have conceded seven goals against the cap-hoarder.

After deciding the first leg of the playoff to reach the 2014 World Cup in Portugal, Ronaldo opened the scoring against Sweden in Solna. Zlatan Ibrahimovic, hardly a figure that shrugs the spotlight himself, replied with a quick-fire brace, hauling Sweden level on aggregate. But Ronaldo was in no mood to miss out on a trip to Brazil, constantly speeding behind Sweden’s backline to score twice in the final 15 minutes, completing his hat-trick and sending his nation to the World Cup.

Cristiano RonaldoCristiano Ronaldo

Cristiano Ronaldo has not enjoyed his career meetings with the German national team / Markus Gilliar – GES Sportfoto/GettyImages

Germany have proven to be Ronaldo’s kryptonite over the years. While playing for Portugal, Ronaldo has been beaten by Die Mannschaft in all five of his career appearances.

Most painfully, all five defeats have occurred at major tournaments, with Germany getting one over Ronaldo’s Portugal at the 2006 and 2014 World Cups as well as the European Championships in 2008, 2012 and 2020. The only competition between 2006 and 2020 in which Portugal avoided Germany was Euro 2016, which Ronaldo and his nation won.

Of the 71 countries Ronaldo has faced across his senior international career, he has scored against 46 of them (65%). Intriguingly, the nation that has kept Ronaldo quiet for the longest has been Albania. Ronaldo has come up against the Balkan side on four separate occasions and though he is yet to lose to Albania, he has never scored against the Eagles.

Brazil and Turkey have both managed to navigate three matches without shipping a goal to CR7. But Italy are the only nation Ronaldo has faced more than once and is still yet to register a goal or win against.

Technically, Ronaldo hasn’t beaten or scored against England in normal time. But he has been part of two penalty shootout victories over the Three Lions and the wink he delivered in the aftermath of Wayne Rooney’s red card at World Cup 2006 drew more fury than any goal could have.




International friendlies



FIFA World Cup qualification



UEFA European Championship qualification



FIFA World Cup



UEFA European Championship



UEFA Nations League



Confederations Cup


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