What Is A Cap In Soccer?

A Cap Is Not The Same As A Hat

Just like any other sport, soccer is packed full of strange and confusing words and phrases that you couldn’t possibly understand until someone explains them to you.

Things like ‘hat trick’ and ‘full back’ will be said frequently by commentators and fans during a game but the casual observer might not understand what’s going on.

One other example of confusing terminology in soccer is the word ‘cap’. You might assume that this is some item of headwear that soccer players use but that’s actually not the case.

A cap simply refers to an appearance that a player makes for their national team. Every time someone plays for their country in an international soccer game, they earn one extra cap.

If you’re still confused, don’t worry! Here, we’re going over everything you need to know about caps in soccer.

Why Is It Called A Cap?

The first question that most people have about caps is why it’s even called that in the first place. After all, the players don’t usually wear a physical cap during soccer games, with the occasional exception of the goalkeeper.

The origin of the word in soccer dates back to the late 19th century when it was decided that every soccer player who represented the English national team would receive an embroidered cap as a reward. Back then, international fixtures were far less common than they are today, so it was an even more impressive achievement to represent your country like this.

It’s not surprising that the tradition began in England, the country where soccer was invented, and the practice of awarding a cap to international players quickly spread across the world.

Nowadays, however, international fixtures are so common that players often represent their country dozens or hundreds of times. Because of this, the practice of awarding a physical, embroidered cap for international appearances died out.

How Do Soccer Players Get A Cap?

Because caps in soccer are no longer a physical reward for representing their country, players usually don’t, nor do they have to do anything to earn a cap. Although some coaches still award caps. Usually, those who keep track of player statistics simply mark an extra number next to their name on the list of international caps.

However, this doesn’t mean that soccer players can earn a cap for playing in just any game. There are some criteria that determine what level of competition counts for a player to earn a cap from it.

For example, caps are only counted for games played for the country’s first national team. This means youth teams like U23s or U18s don’t count towards official caps. A player might count their number of appearances for these teams but they are distinctly different from actual international caps.

It’s also worth noting that club appearances don’t count towards a player’s caps at all. It doesn’t matter how many games a player appears in for their club team, it won’t count as a single international cap for them.

Also, the level of competition at the international level is considered when determining if a player has earned a cap. For example, playing in a closed-doors friendly match for training purposes doesn’t count towards a player’s caps total.

These are some examples of competitions in which a player can earn international caps:

  • The FIFA World Cup (and qualifiers)
  • Continental competitions like the European Championships or AFCON (and qualifiers)
  • Friendly matches played between the first national teams of two countries
  • Olympic Games matches (and qualifiers)
What Is A Cap In Soccer (1)

How Hard Is It To Earn A Cap In Soccer?

The answer to this question largely depends on what country a player represents. In fact, there’s actually a great deal of luck involved in how many caps a player will receive over their whole career.

First, a player needs to be selected for their national team. This is much more difficult in some countries than others because different national teams have different ability levels.

For example, a country like Brazil consistently has one of the best national sides in the world when it comes to soccer. With such a large population of soccer-loving people, the Brazilian national team is one of the most competitive and motivates players to a very high level of ability.

On the other hand, a country like San Marino, which is consistently ranked as having one of the worst national teams in Europe, has the opposite problem. San Marino has a very small population and its national team has never been very competitive. Therefore, a lower level of soccer ability is required to break into the national side of San Marino.

However, just because it’s easier or harder to get into a national team, it doesn’t affect the number of caps a national team player will receive. San Marino’s most capped player of all time is Damiano Vannucci who appeared for his country 68 times. In the Brazilian national team, defender, Marquinhos, has currently earned himself 67 caps, putting him at around the same number as Vannucci.

Most people will agree that Marquinhos has a much higher level of ability than Vannucci and has achieved much more throughout his career. However, when it comes to their international caps total, it appears as though the two have achieved just as much as each other.

Are Caps Important?

In general, caps are not one of the most important statistics in soccer. As we mentioned before, even the best players in the world might not earn as many caps as some others, simply because of how many games their national team plays.

Caps are therefore not the best measure of a player’s ability, but rather a measure of their experience. There’s no doubting that a player with over 100 caps has a lot of experience playing at an international level and this is something that a lot of national team coaches pay attention to.

Final Thoughts

We hope you’ve enjoyed learning about caps with this article. While the importance of caps in soccer is debatable, it doesn’t make the achievement any less impressive. Many children grow up dreaming of earning a cap by playing for their national soccer team.

In fact, every player you see representing their national side on TV will have worked very hard to get to that position and nothing should diminish the achievement.


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