What, no Lionel Messi? No Ronaldo? No Pele? 

There are some surprising omissions from the World Cup’s most capped XI. Then again, there are a few not-so surprising inclusions too… 

Claudio Taffarel – 18 appearances

Whenever you look back on the greatest Brazilian footballers of all time, your mind tends to conjure up images of a rampaging Ronaldo, of Pele in his pomp or Ronaldinho’s toothy grin. Taffarel, however, is proof that the most successful nation in World Cup history can produce elite-level goal-stoppers as well as elite-level goal-getters

Taffarel, who now coaches compatriot Alisson Becker at Liverpool, gets the nod over German Sepp Maier due to the fact he has played in two separate World Cup finals. 

Cafu – 20 appearances

Perhaps the greatest compliment that can be paid to the AC Milan and Roma legend is that, whenever an exciting young right-back bursts onto the scene, Cafu is almost always held up as the benchmark for him to aspire to. 

One of the forefathers of the modern full-back revolution, Cafu could run the London marathon without pausing for breath. 

Captained Brazil to glory in 2002. 

Photo by Tim De Waele/Getty Images

Wladyslaw Zmuda – 21 appearances

One of the lesser-known players in this star-studded XI maybe, but do not underestimate Zmuda’s legacy in his native Poland. Few players in the history of the game have featured in more World Cup’s than his four – between 1974 and 1986 – and Poland’s best-ever tournament finish of third came when Zmuda was tackling everything in his path at the heart of their backline. 

Paolo Maldini – 21 appearances

Kylie Minogue was an up-and-coming, baby-faced pop princess when Maldini made his international debut in 1988. She had eight albums under her belt by the time he hung up his boots 14 years later. The AC Milan great seemed to go on forever, his silver-coated career spanning multiple decades. 

The lack of an international trophy in the blue of Italy, however, remains a gaping hole on his otherwise staggering CV. 

Philipp Lahm – 20 apperances

Is there anything Philipp Lahm can’t do? Whether at left-back, right-back, central midfield or behind a desk as part of his role as a managing director for the German football association, the former Bayern Munich skipper was the model of consistency and reliability throughout a remarkable career. 

He captained Germany to victory over Argentina in 2014. 

Photo by sampics/Corbis via Getty Images

Bastian Schweinsteiger – 20 appearances

Arguably the best player on the pitch in that 2014 final, it took some time for football to truly appreciate Schweinsteiger’s gifts but his legacy is now firmly assured in the history of German football. Blossoming from a hard-running winger into a truly complete central midfield player, Schweinsteiger was twice inducted into FIFA’s FIFPro World XI. 

Just don’t mention that spell at Manchester United… 

Lothar Matthaus – 25 appearances

Influential on the pitch and outspoken off it, Matthaus is one of the great characters of German football. A Bayern Munich legend, like Lahm and Schweinsteiger, it’s a testament to his longevity that he was twice named Germany’s Footballer of the Year, almost a decade apart. 

A Ballon D’Or winner in 1990. 

Diego Maradona – 21 appearances

If Diego Maradona had the ‘hand of god’, then his lethal left boot was carved by an even higher power. Arguably the greatest footballer ever to grace the game, the late, great Argentine will be immortalised forever in Napoli.

The Serie A giants named their stadium after their favourite son in light of his premature death in 2020. 

Photo by Bob Thomas Sports Photography via Getty Images

Grzegorz Lato – 20 appearances

The second Polish player in this team, if Zmuda’s role was to keep the goals out, then Lato was there to do precisely the opposite. 45 goals in 100 caps suggest he was rather good at his job, too.

Lato, a jet-heeled winger, won the World Cup’s Golden Shoe in 1974. He remains among the top scorers in the tournament’s history with ten to his name. 

Miroslav Klose – 25 appearances

Talking of ‘top scorers’… 

No one since the World Cup began almost 100 years ago has found the net quite so reliably as this Polish-born poacher extraordinaire. Good for his club yet great for his country, Klose was not the most fancy or fashionable striker around. But he was certainly the most efficient. 

Uwe Seeler – 21 appearances

One of the greatest players never to have won the World Cup – he was part of the West Germany side who found themselves on the wrong end of a Geoff Hurst hat-trick at Wembley in ‘66 – Seeler nevertheless remains an undisputed legend of the competition. 

The Hamburg great even turned out for Irish outfit Cork Celtic right at the end of his career. True to form, Seeler scored two goals in one game, and rode off into the south-west sunset. 

Photo by Popperfoto via Getty Images/Getty Images

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