International breaks may not be everyone’s cup of tea, given the often-drab football, risk of injury to key players, and increasingly strained relations between the Premier League and South American Football Federations.
But every now and then, seemingly meaningless internationals will write someone’s name into the history books, the latest such player being Norwich striker Teemu Pukki, who became Finland’s all-time record goal scorer. But far from the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo, Robert Lewandowski and Romelu Lukaku, who often spring to mind when reading about UEFA national team top scorers, there are several other, similarly well-known names who have broken their national team’s scoring record far more recently.
From Central Europe to the furthest outposts of UEFA, here are the five most recent record breaking goal scorers for UEFA national teams.
5 Most Recent record-breaking goal scorers for UEFA national teams
(Disclaimer: For simplicity purposes, we are not including Kosovo and Gibraltar, whose national team history is currently too short to discuss record-setting/breaking).
1. Teemu Pukki (Finland – 12th October 2021)
We’ve already mentioned Teemu Pukki, who broke the legendary Jari Litmanen’s 11-year record to become the Finland National Team’s all-time record goal scorer.
With two strikes in a vital World Cup qualifying victory over Kazakhstan, Pukki leapfrogged Litmanen’s tally of 32 goals to now sit on 33 (and counting) for his country. The Norwich City icon may not be rated in the same class of footballer as Litmanen, but his ten goals in Euro 2020 qualifying meant that Pukki carried his nation to their first ever major tournament, something that Litmanen could not do.
He may not have netted at the Euros, but his very presence at the tournament, as well as this record-breaking goal tally, means that the 31-year-old has now cemented himself as a Finland great.
2. Eran Zahavi (Israel – 31st March 2021)
From one team of World Cup hopefuls to another, the Israel national team has witnessed the rise of a star in recent years, with PSV Eindhoven striker Eran Zahavi developing into one of UEFA’s deadliest strikers.
Although he’d played sporadically for the Israeli team since 2010, Zahavi’s international career gained sudden lift off from 2019 onwards, having scored an incredible 25 international goals in just under three years. He surpassed Mordechai Spiegler’s 44-year-old record of 24 goals for Israel in March of this year with an equaliser against Moldova, and now has 33 goals for his country.
Now 34, Zahavi is showing no signs of slowing down, having been the 2nd top scorer in both Euro 2020 qualifying and in current UEFA World Cup qualifying. He will likely only extend his lead at the top of the Israel goal scoring chart, although he is still yet to play at a major international tournament.
3. Aleksandar Mitrovic (Serbia – 27th March 2021)
From Luka Jovic to Dusan Vlahovic, Serbia are a national team enjoying the rise of some promising young strikers over the past few years, with the latter in particular now being among Europe’s most sought after talents.
Amidst the new faces, though, it has been established centre forward Aleksandar Mitrovic who has remained Serbia’s main man, becoming their all-time top scorer in March.
It may not seem that impressive at first glance, given that Serbia have only been competing as an independent national team since 2006. However, as the sole legal successor of the various national teams of the former Yugoslavia, Mitrovic now actually sits top of the goal scoring table of a team with over 100 years of history.
Indeed, the Serbian record that Mitrovic broke had stood since 1956, a record that fell when the Fulham man scored goal number 39 for his country in March. He has of course played and scored at the World Cup in 2018, and is driving Serbia’s bid to reach Qatar 2022 as well.
Marek Hamsik (Slovakia – 11th June 2019)
Marek Hamsik is a name well known to most European football fans, having been the talisman of Napoli for several years and one of the finest attacking midfielders in Europe throughout most of the 2010’s.
It will be no surprise, then, to learn that Hamsik sits at the top of the tree regarding Slovakia’s all-time top scorers, having broken the national team record back in 2019. He claimed the honour with his 24th strike, overtaking former teammate Robert Vittek, whom Hamsik played alongside at the 2010 World Cup. Unlike Vittek, Hamsik also managed to play at two European Championships, notably scoring a belter of a goal against Russia in 2016 which took Slovakia into the last 16 at the very first time of asking.
Now aged 34 and in the twilight of his career, Hamsik remains Slovakia’s captain and most capped player, as well as their top goal scorer. Comfortably Slovakia’s greatest ever player in the team’s 28-year history.
Gareth Bale (Wales – 22nd March 2018)
Last but certainly not least, we go back to 2018 to find the most famous name on this list – the Welsh wizard Gareth Bale.
After a slow start to life in the red of Wales, Bale’s conversion into a more attacking player was followed by a sharp increase in goal returns for his country, eventually becoming the all-time top scorer in 2018 with a hat-trick against China.
It was this display that moved him above the iconic Ian Rush to become the record scorer for one of the oldest national teams in the world, but unlike so many Welsh players through the decades, his efforts for The Dragons were not in vain. Bale’s goals propelled Wales to Euro 2016, their first tournament in 58 years, where he scored three times and led the team all the way to the semi-finals. One of the best Welsh football players helped the team reach a second successive European Championship Finals in 2020, although he is still yet to play at a FIFA World Cup.
Still, it won’t stop Bale from going down as the most successful player with the Welsh national team in several generations.
Manchester City and England fan. Writer of opinion and features on all things Premier League and beyond.