Football’s All-Time International Goalscoring Record – Part I

Yes, I’m following in the footsteps of the Harry Potter and the Hunger Games movie franchises. Splitting posts in two is the real thing right now, haven’t you heard?

So… Previously we’ve seen what’s going on with the all-time international appearances record in football. Now it’s time to complete the picture and check what’s going on with its brother from another mother – the all-time international goalscoring record. However, I must warn you – the story with the goalscoring record is much more boring than the whole appearances saga, and you’ll soon understand why. However, if you’re still interested in learning what’s going on there, follow me down the rabbit hole. Or something like that.

When we examined the progression of the all-time international appearances record  we started our journey through the years in the 1950’s. In the goals department, however, we need to go back all the way to the 20’s. Oh, the good old 20’s! Inflation! Stock market crash! Hitler’s beer hall putsch! Yay. Anyway, football was pretty damn attack-oriented back then, and nobody gave a fuck about defense. Teams used to play with 5 forwards in a 2-3-5 formation, and many, MANY goals were scored back then.

Imre Schlosser was a legendary Hungarian striker, in an era that preceded the golden generation of the 50’s. In 68 games he played for the Hungarian national team between the years 1906 and 1927 he managed to score 59 goals, and this number – 59, will be our starting point.

This may or may not be Imre Schlosser.

This may or may not be Imre Schlosser.

Well, it fucking sucks, because it’s a pretty damn high starting point. To put it into perspective: when we talked about appearances we started with Billy Wright, who accumulated 105 caps back in 1959. And while 105 caps is a really decent number, it’s not uncommon to see present-day players reach that amount of caps. 59 goals, on the other hand, are a whole different story. Only a handful of players managed to surpass Schlosser’s total in the almost 90 years that passed since he scored his 59th goal, and in fact he’s still ranked 18th all-time! Now, I could go back even further in time, but even the 20’s are too much far away, and I didn’t want to venture all the way back to the 19th century. I mean – who knows where it’s been…

So yeah, we must suffer from the fact that goals were very common back then. Our journey through time will therefore will be a short and depressing one. Just like my attempt at doing a B.A. in math when I was 15.

After Schlosser came another two great Hungarian strikers: Sandor Kocsis, and his more celebrated friend – Ferenc Puskas. Both were great and legendary, and both broke Schlosser’s record, but Kocsis suffered from the fact that Puskas was more than two years older that him, and so he always lagged a little behind his more famous friend. Maybe this was the reason behind his explosion at the 1954 World Cup, when he scored a then-record of 11 goals, a mark which as of today is still second best all-time.

Kocsis (left) and Puskas (right). Boy did they have some good haircuts back then!

Kocsis (left) and Puskas (right). Boy did they have some good haircuts back then!

But yeah, in terms of goals for the national team Kocsis was always a little behind. Puskas made his debut for the Hungarian national team in 1945, Kocsis – in 1948. For the next several years Kocsis tried to make up for that gap, and he came pretty damn close to erasing it. Who knows what might have happened if it weren’t for the political stuff that made them both leave their country in 1956.

Kocsis scored his first goal on his debut, but Puskas also scored in that same match – twice, and already reached 15 goals. Puskas’s 30th (and 31st) goal came in April of 1950, Kocsis’s 30th – in July of 1952. Puskas’s 50th (and 51st. Damn, did he EVER scored only one goal?!) goal – in July of 1952, and in fact 4 days before Kocsis scored his 30th. Kocsis’s 50th goal came a little more than two years later, in September of 1954. You can already see that he started to shorten the gap from Puskas, although he was still more than two years behind him. Anyway, Michael, why write so much? Didn’t god create tables exactly for such instances?

Goal #

Puskas Kocsis Gap


August, 1945 June, 1948 2 years, 10 months


December, 1947 May, 1950 2 years, 5 months


May, 1949 June, 1952 3 years, 1 month


April, 1950 July, 1952 2 years, 3 months


October, 1950 June, 1954

3 years, 8 months

50 July, 1952 September, 1954

2 years, 2 months

60 November, 1953 May, 1955

1 year, 6 months

70 May, 1955 June, 1956

1 year, 1 month

80 February, 1956
final October, 1956 October, 1956

Hmmm… this is interesting. Until I compiled this table, I thought that Kocsis always made the gap smaller. But huh, I guess he didn’t. However, you can see that he picked up speed during 1954. From then on he kept on shortening the gap, but Puskas was still always ahead of him, and it was Puskas who first broke Schlosser record. It was his 60th goal, and it happened in the legendary match against England in Wembley, when Hungary beat England 6-3 in one of the most memorable and the most important matches of the 20th century.

After that match, Puskas continued to accumulate goals at a rate that only his friend Kocsis could mirror. But all that came to an abrupt end with the Hungarian attempt at revolution in 1956. Puskas and Kocsis fled the country and never represented Hungary ever again. However, both their totals for the national team are mind-fucking. Puskas scored a total of 84 goals in 85 appearances, and Kocsis scored 75 goals in 68 appearances. Sadly, Kocsis was denied of the opportunity to catch his compatriot, and so he was left at second place. It is a real possibility that in an alternative world, where the Hungarian (attempt at a) revolution of 1956 never happened, both Puskas and Kocsis retired with over 100 international goals to their credit… Someone should make a “Sliders” episode about it. No, really, I’m serious – make that episode.

84 goals! Damn! Now that’s a record that will stand for evar, right? Well, it certainly seemed so in the decades that passed since then. The game of football has changed, teams no longer played with 5 forwards or in the W-M formation, and more focus was directed to defense. This made it harder for strikers to achieve those absurd goalscoring figures from the past. However, One legendary player came mighty close. O Rei, Pele.

Now, this is not a post about Pele, and if I were to mention his records and accomplishments I might need to postpone my PhD. However, this is something that is definitely worth mentioning. During his illustrious career in the national team, Pele appeared in 92 matches for Brazil, and scored 77 goals. A great, great number. But it still placed him 2nd all time when he retired from the national team in 1971. A pity, since he was only 30 years old and could easily played 3-4 more years. But there you go. Pele remained at second place.

No other player even came close in the decades that passed. Even the great Gerd Muller, owner of the best goals-to-caps ratio in serious international football, scored only 68 goals for Germany (in 62 caps, mind you!). For half a century, Puskas’s record remained untouched, and rightfully so. I mean – if Pele and Gerd Muller couldn’t break it, who fucking can (or should)?! Well, one man rose up to the challenge. His name was Ali Daei.

Ali Daei. I liked him despite the fact that he might have wanted me dead.

Ali Daei. I liked him despite the fact that he might have wanted me dead.

It’s really funny, how a player from Iran managed to do what Pele and Gerd Muller couldn’t. Ali Daei was a good Iranian striker, who, if it wasn’t for that goalscoring record would have been best remembered for his spell in the Bundesliga – he played for Arminia Bielefeld, Bayern Munich and Hertha Berlin. But it so happened that he benefited from Iran’s weak opposition and from the fact that he had a really lengthy career. In 13 years he managed to accumulate a total of 148 caps, which is, like, a really awesome total. In November of 2003, in a match against Lebanon, Daei scored his 85th goal for the national team, and broke Puskas’s record, which stood for almost half a century. But he didn’t stop there. A year after that milestone, he became the first player to reach 100 international goals, when he scored 4 goals against Laos, which brought his total to 102. He scored a few more goals after that, with his last one coming in March of 2006. That was goal number 109. Holy shit. Daei even managed to take part in the 2006 World Cup, at 37 years of age, but failed to score there, even though I always betted on him to score in some friendly bets I had with my friends in the army.

It is almost redundant to say that his record hasn’t been broken since then. So to sum things up, as of now, the record for the most number of goals scored in international matches is 109 goals, and this record is already 9 years old. Puskas’s 50 years of ruling the records-book are still a long way away, but is it even reasonable to talk about someone breaking this truly mind-fucking record? Must it be someone like Ali Daei, who enjoys weak opposition and manages to score in amounts that Dan Bilzerian would be envy of? Since Daei no one even came close to joining him in the three-digits international goals club, but in recent years we still had and have a few superstars who achieved some huge amounts of goals for their national teams.

The second (and the longer) part of this post will focus on them. Stay tuned!

Hey, Part II just came out! Check it out here.

2 thoughts on “Football’s All-Time International Goalscoring Record – Part I

  1. Pingback: Football’s All-Time International Goalscoring Record – Part II | Michael's Sports Statistics

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