What Does Capped Mean in Soccer?

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Soccer is, without a doubt, one of the most popular sports in the world. Just like any sport, it has its own unique terminology. Some of these terms can sometimes be confusing, even for staunch football fans. One such term is “capped.”

In this article, you will learn all about the meaning of the term “capped” in soccer. By the end, you will also know the history behind the term, its importance, and what it takes for players to earn a cap.

And, of course, you will also get to know who holds the record for the most caps in both men’s and women’s soccer.

Why Is It Called a Cap in Soccer?

The term “cap” in soccer has an interesting origin which dates back to the 19th century. During the early years of international soccer matches, countries gave caps to their players.

These were actual physical caps often embroidered with the national team’s emblem. For example, English players would receive a cap with the “three lions” emblem on it.

These days, the practice of giving caps to players is not as popular as it used to be. But football analysts and fans still use the term “cap.” And when they use the term, they are talking about how many times a player has played for their national team.

If you hear in the news that Christiano Ronaldo has over 200 caps, what does that mean? It means he has played in more than 200 matches for the Portuguese National team.

Why Are Caps Important?

In most countries, soccer is one of the most popular sports. And there are thousands of soccer players available for the national team manager to choose from.

Getting a call to play for your nation is a big deal! It’s a dream for many soccer talents, both young and old.

In every soccer match, only eleven players are allowed to play for each team. This means if you earn a cap or play for your national team, it shows how good you are as a player. 

Caps also form a crucial part of every player’s legacy. The number of caps a player accumulates throughout their career gives an impression of their impact and longevity in the game.

Caps give fans and future generations useful data that helps them to appreciate and compare players from different eras. The concept of caps not only honors the players but also adds to the collective narrative of soccer’s rich history.

History of the Term “International Cap”

As I mentioned earlier, the concept of an “international cap” was first formalized in the late 19th century. In 1886, the Football Association Committee in England approved a proposal by N. L. Jackson that “all players taking part for England in future international matches be presented with a white silk cap with red rose embroidered on the front. These are to be termed ‘International Caps.” 1

England was the first country to present caps to its soccer players. This set a precedent for other nations to adopt similar practices, and soon after, international caps became popular. 

What Counts as Official Cap in Soccer?

I’ve already mentioned that a cap is when players play for their national team. But there’s a catch. Not every match you play for your national team will count as a cap. The match has to be officially recognized by FIFA. Or by a regional confederation like UEFA or CONCAF.

In the past, many friendlies and exhibition matches counted as official caps in soccer. But things have changed in recent years.

The change is mainly to address concerns of potential abuse of international appearances to boost player statistics artificially.

As a result, only competitive matches, such as FIFA World Cup qualifiers, continental championships, and certain international tournaments, are now commonly considered for official cap tallies.

How Does a Soccer Player Earn a Cap?

For a player to earn a cap in soccer, they must play for their national team in an official international match.

And for that to happen, the player has to receive a call from the managers of their national team. Getting a call to the national team makes you eligible to earn a cap. But that alone is not enough.

The player should either be part of the starting lineup for the game or be substituted into the game.

This means if they are named as part of the matchday squad and don’t actually play, then that match doesn’t count as part of the player’s cap. It also means that when you play for your club team, it doesn’t count as caps.

Who Has the Most Caps in Soccer?

Christiano Ronaldo holds the record for the most international caps in men’s soccer. On June 20, 2023, he made a record 200th appearance for the Portuguese national team.

This makes him the first and only man to reach 200 caps. Ronaldo is one of the best soccer players of all time. And for many soccer fans, this record will be no surprise. The list below shows the top five most capped men as of July 2023.

  1. Christiano Ronaldo (Portugal) – 200 caps
  2. Badel Al-Mutawa (Kuwait) – 196 caps
  3. Soh Chin Ann (Malaysia) – 195 caps
  4. Ahmed Hassan (Egypt) – 184 caps
  5. Ahmed Mubarak (Oman) – 183 caps

Most Caps in Women’s Soccer

For women’s soccer, Kristine Lilly of the United States holds the record. She has an outstanding 354 caps for the US Women’s national team. And many female players look up to her for inspiration. These are the top five most capped women as of July 2023.

  1. Kristine Lily (USA) – 354 caps
  2. Christine Sinclair (Canada) – 323 caps
  3. Carli Lyoid (USA) – 316 caps
  4. Christie Pearce (USA) – 311 caps
  5. Mia Hamm (USA) – 276 caps

Frequently Asked Questions

1. What types of games count as a cap?

A game will count as an international cap if it’s FIFA-sanctioned. In soccer jargon, we call these matches “full internationals.” This means the match is between two national teams fielding their strongest players. 

2. Do Players Still Get a Physical Cap?

Most countries no longer give physical caps to players when they play in an international match. Some present another commemorative item like a special jersey or medal.

But that is often reserved for players who reach a milestone like 50 or 100 caps.

3. Can You Earn Caps for Multiple Countries?

FIFA rules do not allow players to earn caps for multiple countries. When you play in an official international match for one country, you cannot switch to another country’s team.

This is true for senior national teams. But when you play for junior teams, it’s possible to switch if the player holds dual citizenship or meets the eligibility criteria.

4. What Is Not Considered a Cap?

The are some matches that FIFA does not consider full internationals. And these do not count as official caps.

For example, playing in an exhibition and friendly matches, unless they are FIFA-sanctioned. Also, playing for junior teams like the Under 20 or Under 17 does not count as official caps.


Now you know the meaning of the term “cap” in soccer. Next time you hear a soccer analyst or fan using the term, you will know what it means. And also the history behind the term. 

Soccer is still one of the most popular sports in the world. When national teams play, people forget their differences and enjoy the match together.

The practice of giving special caps to players after international matches is not as popular as it used to be. But the world continues to celebrate soccer players who reach remarkable milestones in appearances for national teams.

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