What is a Cap in Soccer?: Laws of the Game

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Written by Daniel Pena, Bachelors in Kinesiology and footballer: Learn More

What is a cap in soccer? Whether you are a new fan or a die hard fan of the beautiful game, chances are you may have heard the soccer term “cap” before.

A cap in soccer is not a physical cap, hat, or something that you wear on your head, but rather it is a milestone in a player’s international soccer career. In this blog, I will cover everything you need to know about a basic soccer term, an international soccer cap.

What are International Caps in Soccer?

In soccer, an “international cap” isn’t just an article of clothing to wear on top of one’s head but rather a recognition of how many times an individual has represented their nation in official competitions, whether that is during FIFA World Cup games, World cup qualifiers, olympic games, olympic qualifying games, any other major international tournament, or even friendly matches.

It’s like a badge of honor but without the actual badge.

Cap in Soccer

Where does the term “Cap” come from?

The idea of caps started in England back in the 19th century, when players who played for the national team against Scotland were given actual caps as a symbol of their achievement. This was the first international match and players were awarded physical caps.

Nowadays, it’s more of a symbolic cap, but it still carries the same weight of honor and pride.

A cap is like a stamp on a player’s passport, marking each time they step onto the field for their country in a full international game. It’s a way to separate these performances from the ones they have with their club teams.

Awarding caps only happens when players play for their senior national teams, not for their club teams.

Earning a Cap in Soccer: Explained

To earn a cap it takes more than just being on the team’s roster. To earn an official cap a player must play in an international game at the senior level.

This means if a player makes it to the roster, but they stay on the bench and they are not subbed on, they do not get a cap. Also, if players participate in international youth tournaments, those games do not count towards earning an official cap.

An actual cap is earned by participating in senior international tournaments only and actually stepping on the soccer field and getting a chance to play, even one or two minutes is enough to earn a cap.

Are Soccer Players Awarded Physical Caps for International Caps?

In the early stages of the game, during the 19th century, players that participated in international games did get physical caps, but that is no longer the case. Nowadays, players just get a “cap” next to their names.

Can you Earn a Cap with Multiple International Teams?

The simple answer is yes you can, but there are certain rules that players must follow.

Nowadays it is very common to see players with dual nationality and eligibility to represent various countries at the senior international level. Because of this the International Football Association Board (IFAB) and FIFA have established clear rules when it comes to picking a senior national team.

  • At the junior level, players can represent various countries and take part in international matches with different national teams.
  • Once they reach the senior level, players do not have to choose the national team that they represented during youth levels
  • At the senior level, players can change countries if they have less than 3 international caps for that country, if they are less than 21 years of age, and if they have not played in major tournaments, such as the World cup
  • Once a player turns 21, or if they have participated in a senior international tournament, they have to commit to the country they represented

For example, Diego Costa, born and raised in Brazil, represented Brazil at the senior international level twice, not three times, and was allowed to switch to the Spanish National Team, which he earned 24 caps with. Now that Costa is committed to Spain he can no longer play for Brazil again.

Cap in Soccer

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Frequently Asked Questions

Which soccer player has the most caps in men’s soccer history?

Cristiano Ronaldo has the most caps in men’s soccer history with 206 to his name.

Which soccer player has the most caps in women’s soccer history?

Kristine Lilly has the most caps in women’s soccer history.


In conclusion, soccer caps are not physical caps, but rather a recognition of a player’s abilities to participate in the highest level of soccer, the senior international level. A cap is one of the highest honors in soccer and it is earned when a professional soccer player represents their country in an international competition.

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