Kuwait’s FIFA Arab Cup™ qualifier against Bahrain is a hugely significant fixture, and not just because the winners will go to the tournament in Qatar. It was also the game that finally allowed Kuwaiti forward Bader Al Mutawa to become the most-capped player in the history of men’s football.
Earlier this month, during Kuwait’s unsuccessful attempt to reach the third round of AFC qualifying for the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022™, Al Mutawa won his 184th cap to tie the record of Egyptian legend Ahmed Hassan, set on 22 May 2012 against Togo.
FIFA.com looks back at the impressive career of Al Mutawa, who has finally surpassed his Egyptian rival and set a new appearances’ record for international men’s football.
On 4 September 2003, newly-appointed coach Paulo Cesar Carpegiani handed Al Mutawa his debut in a 2004 Asian Cup qualifier away to Singapore. It was certainly a bold move, partly because it was the Brazilian’s first game in charge, and partly because the player being entrusted with attacking duties was only 18-years-old. But Al Mutawa, who began his football career as a goalkeeper with Al-Qadsia before moving up front, quickly repaid Carpegiani’s trust, scoring on his debut in a 3-1 win.
Five World Cup qualifying campaigns
Al Mutawa then helped Al-Azraq (The Blue) to the final phase of the 2004 Asian Cup. He would go on to feature at that tournament in China PR, as well as the 2011 and 2015 editions, but could not prevent Kuwait exiting at the group stage on each occasion. Six months after his international debut, the 1.75 m forward played his first FIFA World Cup™ qualifier, against Malaysia in the Germany 2006 preliminaries.
Once again he rose to the occasion, opening the scoring and helping his side to victory. Al Mutawa was a fixture in his side for the South Africa 2010, Brazil 2014 and Russia 2018 World Cup qualifiers. He also featured in Kuwait’s unsuccessful bid to reach Qatar 2022.
Breaking new ground
When the AFC qualifiers for Qatar 2022 resumed earlier this month, Al Mutawa was still three games away from Ahmed Hassan’s record. He came off the bench for the Australia and Jordan games before starting their final fixture against Chinese Taipei, where he equalled the mark set nine years previously by Hassan. That achievement was overshadowed by Kuwait’s Qatar 2022 elimination, which saw the veteran break down in tears in the knowledge that he would not be able to end his long career with an appearance on the world stage.
However, there was some consolation for Al Mutawa, with the president of the Kuwaiti Football Federation, Sheikh Ahmed Al Yousef, paying tribute to him before the team travelled to Qatar to face Bahrain. The 36-year-old then duly made history by taking sole possession of the record for most international appearances in men’s football.