Pile of Blank Passports

Who are the Oldest Players to Play at the World Cup?

On the 12th of March 2024, Scotland manager Steve Clarke made the surprise decision to call up Craig Gordon to the squad for friendlies later in the month against Northern Ireland and Netherlands. He is one of two Hearts goalkeepers in the group, alongside Zander Clark, with the manager naming two other keepers as well. But the most surprising thing about all of this is Gordon’s age: the experienced goalie is 41 years old.

Gordon, who began his senior career with Hearts back in 2001, but also represented Celtic and Sunderland, will become the oldest Scottish international in history if he plays any part in those upcoming friendly matches. He last featured for his nation in November of 2022 when he was but a spring chicken of 39. David Weir currently holds the record, having played for Scotland at the age of 40 (plus 116 days for those that are counting!) in 2010 when he turned out against Lithuania in a Euros qualifier.

But whilst 40 is clearly old by footballing standards, how does that compare to the oldest international footballers ever? Records for this metric are hard to come by, largely because some of the data for the smallest nations is not hugely reliable, especially the further back we go. However, in this article we will take a look at who holds the record for being the oldest man to play at the World Cup, something we do have good information on. In addition, we will also look at other related records, including the oldest player to play for England.

#1 Essam El Hadary

Age Nationality World Cup
45 years, 161 days Egyptian Russia 2018

Craig Gordon would have to stay in the Scotland reckoning for some time yet if he was to break the record for the oldest player for any side at a FIFA World Cup. And of course Scotland would have to qualify!

That record was set in 2018 by Egyptian Essam El Hadary, who was 45 years and 161 days old. At the time of writing, that is older than the political leaders of France, Saudi Arabia, North Korea and Ireland and indeed the UK’s Rishi Sunak. It is also younger than managers Mikel Arteta, Vincent Kompany, Roberto De Zerbi, Rob Edwards, Gary O’Neil and Andoni Iraola.

Club Career

El Hadary, who was born on the 15th of January 1973, was a goalkeeper, you may be unsurprised to hear. He is currently employed as the goalkeeping coach of the Syrian national side and spent the majority of his playing career with Cairo-based Al Ahly.

He began his senior career in 1993 with Damietta, his hometown team, and played for many clubs over the years. He only had a brief stint playing in Europe, with Swiss side Sion but played in Egypt for most of his career, representing a number of different sides as he racked up almost 800 league appearances.

He won a number of honours, including the Swiss Cup and seven Egyptian titles, all of the latter having been achieved with Al Ahly. He also won the Sudanese Premier League and domestic cup but perhaps his greatest successes came with The Pharaohs, for whom he turned out a massive 159 times between 1996 and 2018.

International Career

Over the course of that astonishingly lengthy international career El Hadary won the Africa Cup of Nations no fewer than four times (in 1998, 2006, 2008 and 2010). His record-making appearance came on the 25th of June 2018 against Saudi Arabia and was hugely memorable.

His last game of international football came at the World Cup and saw him become the oldest player ever to appear in the tournament. He had earlier made history by becoming the oldest to be named in a World Cup squad and made yet more history by saving a penalty in the game too, the first time an African goalkeeper had saved a spot-kick (aside from in shootouts) in the tournament. He retired in the August after the World Cup and has set a benchmark for all the golden oldies of the football world to aspire to.

#2 Faryd Mondragón

Age Nationality World Cup
43 years, 3 days Colombian Brazil 2014

Colombian Faryd Mondragón had previously held the record as the oldest player at a World Cup finals until El Hadary surpassed him. Mondragón, who was born in June 1971 in Cali, earned 51 caps for his national team, the last of those coming at the 2014 World Cup, just past his 43rd birthday.

On the 24th of June 2014, he featured from the bench against Japan. He came on in the 85th minute and in doing so set a new record for the oldest player at a World Cup. This also created a record for the longest gap between World Cup appearances. His final game came a massive 16 years after his previous World Cup clash in 1998.

The Colombian stopper was something of a journeyman and played for many clubs, both in South America, North America and Europe. He won a number of honours over his playing career, which began in 1990 and ended in 2014, including the Turkish league and cup.

#3 Roger Milla

Age Nationality World Cup
42 years, 39 days Cameroonian USA 1994

If the two players above are known only to hardcore football nerds, the third should be far more familiar, especially to those aged 40 and over. Cameroon legend Roger Milla often had his age questioned but most would accept that he was 42 years and 39 days old when he represented his country at the 1994 World Cup.

Born in the Cameroonian capital of Yaoundé in 1952, Milla notched 43 goals in 77 games for the Indomitable Lions. He played club football for several teams in France but is perhaps best remembered for his goal celebration, a hip-wiggling dance by the corner flag. That dance was brought at four times at the 1990 World Cup, when he was 38, and against Russia four years later too. This made him both the oldest player at a World Cup, a record since broken, and also the oldest goalscorer. His final appearance for Cameroon came in September 1994, against South Africa.

Oldest Player to Play for England

The oldest player to appear at the World Cup for England is legendary goalie Peter Shilton. “Shilts” was well past his best at the 1990 World Cup in Italy, not far shy of his 41st birthday, although still a fine goalkeeper.

No goalkeeper has kept more clean sheets at the World Cup finals (10 in 17 games) and he played 125 times for England between 1970 and 1990. His last game, both for England and at the World Cup, was the third-place play-off game against Italy.

Oldest World Cup Winner

So we have looked at the oldest players to appear at the World Cup, the oldest goalscorer at the finals and England’s oldest World Cup footballer, but who is the oldest to actually get their hands on the trophy?

That honour goes to legendary Italian goalkeeper Dino Zoff, yet another shot-stopper to feature in this article. Zoff played 112 times for his country and won countless honours at club level with Juventus. However, the high point of his career was surely lifting the 1982 World Cup as captain. Zoff had tasted defeat in the final in 1970 but was not to be denied 12 years on as his Italy beat Germany 3-1 in the final in Madrid.

Zoff was a ripe old 40 (not to mention the four months and 13 days) when he helped his nation win their third FIFA World Cup. Zoff was superb throughout the tournament and it may well be some time before his record is broken.