Picture : Martin Peters held the World record between 1979 and 1983.

Evolution of world record for number of appearances

Cristiano Ronaldo has obtained the world record for the number of top-level matches. The match for Portugal vs Ireland became 1226th in his career, and he overtook Rogerio Ceni (1225).
Remarkably, the last outfield player to hold this record (from 1979 to 1983) was the English midfielder, 1966 world champion Martin Peters.
After that it was in the hands of only goalkeepers.
The table shows the evolution of this record since the beginning of XX century. Over the course of more than a century, it has been owned by 10 players, including Cristiano Ronaldo. Until recently (2015) it was exclusively a British privilegy.
The Scot Jimmy Methven, who played in the English league for Derby County, was the first player to reach the 500-game mark. In 1906, he retired with 511 top-level games at his tally.
A year later, his record was broken by the legendary Steve Bloomer who held it until 1911. It could have been longer if his club (the same Derby County) had not been relegated to the second division.
While he was playing there (we do not take into account the matches of the lower divisions), another Scot, Alec Smith, edged past him.
By the way, Bloomer is the only one in the list who lost the record before completing his retirement. All the others, having taken possession of the record, held it until the end of career.
For each player, the table shows number of the match from which he became the sole owner of the record, as well as data on this match (date, competition, etc.)

Jimmy MethvenScotland511    
Steve BloomerEngland59102.11.1907MiddlesbroughSheffield Wednesday 2-3NL
Alec SmithScotland67509.09.1911RangersQueen’s Park 6-1OC
Alec McNairScotland74815.04.1922CelticAlbion Rovers 2-0 NL
Dougie GrayScotland86731.10.1942RangersHearts 3-0RL
Martin PetersEngland93803.02.1979NorwichBolton 0-0NL
Pat JenningsN.Ireland104615.01.1983ArsenalStoke City 3-0NL
Peter ShiltonEngland1217 28.05.1988 England NTSwitzerland 1-0NT Fr.
Rogério CeniBrazil122527.09.2015São PauloPalmeiras 1-1NL
Cristiano RonaldoPortugal122611.06.2024PortugalRep. Ireland 3-0NT Fr.