It would be fair to say that the goalposts have moved when it comes to, erm, scoring goals in international football.
The conveyor belt of friendlies and made-up competitions (hello, UEFA Nations League) means that players are involved in more international football now than ever before.
So it should come as no surprise to learn that of the three players that have scored 100 or more goals for their countries, two have enjoyed the fruits of the modern international calendar.
Lionel Messi joined the 100-club with a first-half hat-trick against footballing powerhouse Curacao in March. That takes him to 102 international goals, and while he turns 36 in June the little legend will have the two players above him on the goalscoring charts – including his nemesis – in his sights.
There are others who could, in theory, still have time in their careers to add their names to the list of centurions. Harry Kane has described his ambition of joining the club, adding it’s ‘not out of the question’ that he will get there. A carousel of qualifiers and friendlies against the likes of Malta, Gibraltar and the Faroe Islands will no doubt help on that front.
So who will succeed where the likes of Pele, Ferenc Puskas and Gerd Muller – admittedly shorn of the modern-day opportunities that the schedule brings – failed in scoring 100 or more international goals?
Cristiano Ronaldo (122 Goals and Counting)
Despite turning 38 and effectively semi-retiring from the game by going to play his club football in Saudi Arabia, Cristiano Ronaldo is still banging them in for Portugal.
Just two days before his old rival Messi joined the 100 club, Ronaldo bagged a brace against Luxembourg – taking him to 122 international goals in 198 caps at a strike rate of 0.62.
It’s almost a certainty that CR7 will reach 200 caps for Portugal – a remarkable achievement in itself, and it will be interesting to see how many more goals he can add to this international tally in the limited time he has left.
Ali Daei (109 Goals)
Yes, he benefitted from playing in the weak OFC confederation with Iran, but Ali Daei’s achievements and influence on global football cannot be underestimated.
The striker bludgeoned 109 goals in 148 caps at a healthy strike rate of 0.74, securing him the title of the top goalscorer in international football until Ronaldo stole that crown. Daei also won the Bundesliga with Bayern Munich and the Asian Games with Iran in a long and eclectic career.
Daei’s reach extends beyond football thanks to his philanthropy and charitable efforts, and he has since been named a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador.
Lionel Messi (102 Goals and Counting)
You suspect that Messi would love to overthrow Ronaldo at the top of the international goalscoring charts, and that Ronaldo won’t retire until Messi has in order to maintain his position!
Although he waved goodbye to World Cup football following Argentina’s triumph in 2022, Messi could still play a part in their qualification campaign for 2026 – he scored seven times in the Qatar qualifiers, so will have to go some to catch CR7.
The mini maestro scored his first international goal against Croatia in March 2006, and it’s fair to say he hasn’t looked back since….
Who Could Yet Join the 100 Club?
His is not a name well-known in world football, but Ali Mabhkout could yet join Middle Eastern legend Daei in the 100 club.
The United Arab Emirates attacker has 80 international goals to his name but is crucially only 32, which means he will have plenty of chances to add more to his collection in the years ahead.
A World Cup 2026 qualification that could take in games against the likes of Turkmenistan, Guam, Timor-Leste and Mongolia should afford Mabhkout plenty of goalscoring opportunities, and his incredible record in the UAE Pro League – 199 goals in just 273 games – confirms his predatory instincts.
At 38, time is running out for India’s Sunil Chhetri to reach the magic milestone, although there’s a decent chance that two modern greats will have enough games to notch their 100th international goal.
Robert Lewandowski (78 goals) is one of the most prolific marksmen on the planet, and at the age of 34 there’s still a likelihood he will play a key role in Poland’s qualification campaigns for Euro 2024 and World Cup 2026 – in the former, the Poles have been drawn against the likes of Moldova, Albania and the Faroe Islands, which will certainly help.
But at just 31 and with 77 goals to his name, Neymar seems the most likely to join the 100 club beyond Mabhkout.
As well as a feast of friendlies and competitions like Copa America, it’s worth remembering that the South American qualifying campaign for the World Cup sees each team play some 18 games – that’s plenty of minutes for Neymar to get on the scoresheet for Brazil.