Last updated on January 16th, 2023
The World Cup is the most prestigious tournament in international football. Since 1930, national teams across the globe have contested for the crown of the World Champions of football.
Before the World Cup starts, each national team releases its squad list for the tournament.
National team squads may include both youngsters and older players. You may wonder if there are any age limits for the World Cup.
Here’s what you need to know:
Is there a minimum age to play in the World Cup?
According to the rules laid out by FIFA for the World Cup tournament, there is no minimum age stipulated to participate in the competition. This means that youngsters of any age can be selected to represent their national team on the world stage.
Although the general age requirement for football is 15 years old, footballers are not allowed to independently sign a professional contract before 18.
However, it is uncommon for very young players to participate in the World Cup since they are rarely prepared for the biggest tournament at that age.
This also applies to the Premier League, where there is no minimum or maximum age.
Who are the youngest players to have played in the World Cup?
Several youngsters have made a mark on the world stage with their national teams. These are some of the youngest players to have played in the World Cup:
Although he was initially sidelined by injury and confined to the bench, Pele later overcame his woes to become the most impactful youngster in football history.
During his appearances, Pele scored an impressive tally of 6 goals, the second-most after Just Fontaine’s 13 goals, along with one assist.
He scored those 6 goals in every knockout stage game, which became incredibly monumental for Brazil’s triumph. These goals included:
- The sole goal against Wales in the quarterfinals (1-0)
- HattrickHattrick against France in the semifinals
- Two goals against Sweden in the final (5-2)
Pele’s appearance (17 years old and 23 days) also made him the youngest footballer to ever play in the World Cup. This record stood for 24 years until Norman Whiteside’s debut at the 1982 World Cup.
However, Pele retains many of his World Cup records to date, including:
- Youngest Player to score in the World Cup
- Youngest Player to play in the World Cup final
- Most goals by a teenager in the World Cup
- Youngest Player to score in the World Cup final
- Youngest player to score a hattrick in a FIFA World Cup
- Youngest player to win the FIFA World Cup
After the 1958 World Cup, Pele exploded his trajectory and dominated world football for many years. The myth of Pele blossomed after he won two more World Cups and cemented his place as the greatest player of all time before his retirement in 1977.
#2 Norman Whiteside
Whiteside broke Pele’s record after debuting for Northern Ireland at 17 years and 43 days old in the 1982 World Cup. His debut came during a group stage game against Yugoslavia.
Unfortunately, Whiteside’s career trajectory would not go as anticipated. The blazing youngster, compared with George Best in his early days, became plagued with injuries that caused serious detriment to his career.
After a decade of professional football embellished with memorable moments in Manchester United and Everton colours, Whiteside was forced to retire at age 26.
However, he remains the Youngest Player to play in a World Cup.
#3 Samuel Eto’o
Before becoming an all-time great, Eto’o made his debut on the world stage at 17 years and 3 months old for the Cameroon National Team during the 1998 World Cup.
His appearance came during a lacklustre group stage game which ended in Cameroon’s early exit at the hands of Roberto Baggio’s Italy.
Eto’o was the youngest tournament participant amidst his country’s disappointing 1998 campaign. Later on, Eto’o would become one of the world’s best footballers and helped his country to several accolades, which include:
Besides his immense contributions to Cameroon, Eto’o was instrumental to the success of Barcelona and Inter Milan. The major highlights of his long, glamorous career are the successive treble victories he won with both teams.
Is there an age limit for players in the World Cup?
FIFA rules do not stipulate any age limit for players participating in the World Cup. This means that players of any age can be selected by their national team for the tournament, depending on several factors.
Players up to 45 years old have made their appearance at the World Cup and continue to do so.
Who are the oldest players to have played in the World Cup?
Similar to the minimum age requirement, there is no maximum age limit for players to participate in the World Cup. Some of the oldest players to play in the World Cup include:
#1 Dino Zoff
At 40 years old, the Italian legend captained his national team to ultimate success at the 1982 World Cup – the same tournament where Whiteside made his record debut. Zoff was immense to the Italian’s success after several heroic performances during the tournament.
Despite being the oldest player at the 1982 edition, Zoff was voted the best goalkeeper at the tournament. Even after 40 years, he remains the Oldest Player ever to win a World Cup.
The World Cup triumph was an emphatic end for Zoff’s legendary career. He spent a notable portion of his career with Juventus.
After playing for the likes of Udinese, Montova, and Napoli, Zoff donned Bianconneri colours at age 30 and stayed for 11 years. He played for over 22 years until he finally retired aged 41.
#2 Roger Milla
The 1990 World Cup edition, held in Italy, played host to the exciting presence of Roger Milla. Cameroon’s legendary marksman made his international debut nearly 17 years prior in a 1973 World Cup qualifier and had even retired in 1988.
However, he was petitioned by the president of Cameroon to come out of retirement for the 1990 World Cup. Thus, Roger Milla returned to the world stage at 38 years old and lit the tournament on fire by scoring four goals in total.
All four goals were crucial to Cameroon’s exciting run, which ended in the quarterfinals after England defeated them in extra time. During this iconic tournament, he set the record for the Oldest Player to score in a World Cup. He deservedly earned the nickname, The Old Lion.
However, that is not the tale’s end. Once again, Roger Milla returned to the world stage for Cameroon at the 1994 World Cup, where he set the record of the Oldest Player to ever play in the World Cup at 42 years old.
Although this record will be later broken, he outdid his previous record. He set the bar higher as the Oldest Player to score in a World Cup after his sole tournament goal against Russia.
#3 Essam El-Hadary
Once Egypt qualified for the 2018 World Cup, it was clear that the captain, Essam, would become the oldest player to ever play in the World Cup.
A couple of months later, 45-year old Essam El-Hadary made his World Cup debut against Saudi Arabia and officially claimed the record. He eclipsed the former record of Colombian keeper, Faryd Mondragón, who previously held the record at 43 years old.
Essam still managed to save a penalty kick against Saudi Arabia during his brief tournament appearance.
This made him the oldest goalkeeper to ever save a penalty kick at the World Cup.
However, he could do little to stop Egypt’s elimination from the tournament. Shortly after the World Cup, Essam retired from international football and eventually ended his 27-year professional career in 2020.
You can find out why goalkeepers tend to retire later here.
There is no age limit – minimum or maximum- whatsoever stipulated by FIFA to regulate players participating in the World Cup. Many young and old players have made a great impact on the tournament.
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