With mere days to go until the first ball is kicked in Qatar, the 2022 World Cup is almost upon us as football fans all over the globe prepare for a mid-season feast of men’s international action.
As well as global glory and sporting immortality on the line, there are also a number of World Cup records that can be broken and milestones within reach over the course of the next 64 games.
Many big names are going into the World Cup on the verge of making history with their national teams, with some long-standing landmarks likely to be passed during the finals if things go to plan for certain players and teams.
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Ronaldo’s World Cup preparation has been overshadowed by his recent interview criticising his club, Manchester United, but it shouldn’t obscure the fact that he could become the first male player in history to score at five different World Cups.
The Portugal captain scored at least one goal at each of the 2006, 2010, 2014 and 2018 finals to equal the record jointly held by Brazil legend Pele (1958, 1962, 1966, 1970) and Germany greats Miroslav Klose (2002, 2006, 2010, 2014) and Uwe Seeler (1958, 1962, 1966, 1970). Therefore, just one goal in Qatar will see Ronaldo move out on his own.
Ronaldo can rest easy knowing he already holds the record as the oldest player to score a hat trick at a World Cup after notching three goals against Spain in the 2018 group stage at the age of 33 years and 130 days — though of course there’s always a chance he could extend this particular record in 2022. Portugal will play Ghana, Uruguay and South Korea in Group H.
Lionel Messi has played in more World Cup games in total (19 games) than any other active player, leading his old foe Ronaldo by two games. It remains to be seen how the 2022 tournament will pan out, but all Messi needs to do is outlast Ronaldo and steer clear of injury to emerge from Qatar with that record intact.
Sergio Ramos is joint-second alongside Ronaldo on the list of active players (17 games) but, having not been selected by Spain, is unlikely to add to his tally before the end of his career.
Germany duo Thomas Muller and Manuel Neuer are just behind with 16 games each, and theoretically could overtake Messi in 2022 should Die Mannschaft make good progress through the knockout phase while some disastrous fate befalls Argentina. The same goes for veteran Uruguay goalkeeper Fernando Muslera.
Diego Maradona set the Argentina national-team record for World Cup appearances with 21 games, meaning that Messi is more than likely to surpass his idol during the course of the 2022 tournament.
If Argentina reach the final with Messi playing in all seven matches, he would surpass ex-Germany midfielder Lothar Matthaus’ all-time record of 25 World Cup appearances.
While Messi has scored six goals in World Cup matches, he has never found the net in a match beyond the group stage. However, his four assists in knockout phase games is a World Cup record he jointly holds with Pele since the 1966 tournament (which is as far back as reliable data extends).
Ronaldo vs. Messi
The twin goliaths of the modern game are set to join an exclusive group of players in history to appear at five different men’s World Cups. Messi and Ronaldo will join Matthaus and Mexico pair Antonio Carbajal and Rafael Marquez as the only players to play at five finals during their careers. Mexico veteran Andres Guardado could also make it on to the pitch at a fifth finals should the 36-year-old midfielder feature for El Tri at Qatar 2022.
Several other players have been included in five World Cup squads during their career but fell short of making appearances at all of them. For example. Gianluigi Buffon has been included in five Italy World Cup squads (1998, 2002, 2006, 2010, 2014) but remained an unused substitute at France ’98.
Similarly, Mexico goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa has become a tournament staple and has been included in his fifth World Cup squad in 2022. However, “Memo” served as a back-up in 2006 and 2010 and didn’t make it onto the pitch.
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All-time top scorers
There are a couple of prominent forwards who are within striking distance of becoming their nation’s all-time record goal scorer during the Qatar World Cup.
Neymar heads into the tournament having scored 75 goals in 121 games for Brazil, leaving him just three goals shy of usurping Pele’s record for the Selecao which has stood since 1971.
Meanwhile, Harry Kane is also just three goals away from breaking Wayne Rooney’s record and becoming England’s new all-time highest goal scorer. The Tottenham Hotspur star has 51 goals in 75 games for his country, while Rooney bowed out with 53 goals in 120 appearances.
What’s more, Kane won the Golden Boot at Russia 2018 with six goals, putting him second on England’s tournament goal-scorer list behind Gary Lineker (10 goals). A glut of goals in Qatar could see Kane break two incredibly impressive national-team records in one fell swoop.
As well as being grouped among the favourites to lift the trophy in Qatar this winter, Argentina also come into the 2022 World Cup as the undisputed form team in world football.
Longest men’s international unbeaten streaks (Nov. 15)
Lionel Scaloni’s side are on a formidable 35-game unbeaten streak that stretches all the way back to July 2019 — specifically the third-place playoff at the 2019 Copa America. The Albiceleste won 2-1 to claim bronze on that fateful day and haven’t lost a single match since. In fact, they’ve even returned to the Copa America in that time and won it, in 2021.
What’s more, Argentina need to add just three more games to their phenomenal run to surpass the record of 37 men’s international games without loss set by Italy between October 2018 and October 2021. Argentina, who beat the European champions 3-0 when they met in June’s intercontinental Finalissima at Wembley, could set the new record against Mexico in their second Group C match in Qatar.
Longest gap between FIFA men’s World Cup appearances
Speaking of streaks, a doff of the cap is due for Wales, who will play their first World Cup finals match for 68 years, thus ending the longest-running tournament absence of any one country in the FIFA competition’s 92-year history.
Canada are also set to make only their second-ever appearance and their first since 1986, the second longest absence among all the nations that have qualified for the 2022 finals in Qatar.
Speaking of Wales, United States head coach Gregg Berhalter will make World Cup history when his side face Gareth Bale & Co. in their opening Group B game at the Ahmad bin Ali Stadium in Al Rayyan on Monday.
At the age of 49, Berhalter will become the first man to have represented the U.S. at a World Cup as both a player and a coach, having previously taken to the field for the USMNT at the 2002 and 2006 tournaments.
Information from ESPN’s Stats and Information Group was used in this report