Euro 2020 Special

The Oldest Players to Appear in the World Cup Finals

Although football is often thought of as a young man’s game, especially when it comes to World Cup finals, there is a band of players who continued to be selected by their countries long after many of their contemporaries had hung up their boots.

Not surprisingly, the majority of the oldest men – with one notable exception – to have appeared in World Cup finals were goalkeepers, because the position in which they played offered them greater career longevity.


Essam El-Hadary (Egypt)

Essam El-Hadary made his international debut for Egypt in 1996, ten months before the youngest member of their squad for the 2018 World Cup in Russia was even born.

He had a highly successful international career, winning the African Cup of Nations four times and being named goalkeeper of the tournament on three occasions.

He earned his place in the history books, though, when he was selected for Egypt’s final group game of the 2018 World Cup against Saudi Arabia, aged 45 years and 161 days, and even saved a first-half penalty. Unfortunately, he could not keep out a second spot kick just before half-time, and his side eventually went down to a 2-1 defeat in Volgograd.


Faryd Mondragón (Columbia)

The man whose record he beat was another goalkeeper, Faryd Mondragón of Columbia, who was given his chance as a late substitute by manager José Pékerman as a sentimental gesture.

With Columbia’s passage to the next round already secure, Mondragón was brought on for the last five minutes of their match against Japan at the age of 43 years and 3 days.

In doing so, he set another record which still stands. The longest appearance between World Cup final games, having last been selected in the finals for a match in the 1998 World Cup finals 15 years and 363 days earlier.


Roger Milla (Cameroon)

There is a lot of debate about how old Roger Milla actually was when he played in the World Cup finals for Cameroon in 1990 and again four years later, with speculation that he was actually older than official FIFA records state.

What is undeniable that, as the only striker on this list, what he achieved was remarkable.

He had actually retired at the age of 36 (officially) only for Cameroon’s president to appeal to him to change his mind. He made a big impact two years later as Cameroon became the first African side to reach a World Cup quarter-final, and then was part of their squad in the USA four years later in 1994.

When he appeared against Russia, not only did he become the oldest player at that time to have appeared in the World Cup finals at the age of 42 years and 39 days, he became the oldest goalscorer, a record he still holds, along with that of being the oldest outfield player.


Pat Jennings (Northern Ireland)

Northern Ireland goalkeeper Pat Jennings chose a unique way to celebrate his 41st birthday, playing in a World Cup finals match against Brazil in Mexico in 1986. Unfortunately, the Brazilians were in no mood to be charitable as they put three goals past Jennings. But it was still a fine way to being down the curtain on an international career that saw him playing 119 times for his country, and more than 1000 club games, most notably for Tottenham Hotspur, and their North London rivals Arsenal.


Peter Shilton (England)

Although Peter Shilton’s England career is inextricably linked with his part in the “Hand of God” Maradona goal in 1986, he remained part of the international set-up four years later, and was a member of the side that reached the World Cup semi-finals against West Germany in 1990.

Unfortunately, they lost to the Germans on a penalty shoot-out, with Shilton unable to keep out any of the spot kicks which he faced.

That meant England had to play the hosts Italy in the third-place play-off, in what proved to be Shilton’s last match for his country at the age of 40 years and 292 days. It was not to be a happy occasion, though, as England were beaten 2-1 in Bari. Shilton would continue playing league football until he finally retired at the age of 47.




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