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World Cup numbering hits and misses

World Cup numbering hits and misses

  • When Ryan Quinn got in touch suggesting a piece on World Cup numbers, we were delighted. Take it away, Ryan:

We need to talk about the World Cup.

Obviously, the competition just gone was one of the better ones, full of all of the classic moments, goals and shocks that set it apart from everything else. However, some of the numbering was just plain bad.

Of course, the majority the allocated squad numbers in general were acceptable, but many of the 32 participating teams boasted a few selections and issues that were quite deplorable.

This was evident in the opening game, Russia’s 5-0 win over Saudi Arabia.

Number 3, Ilya Kutepov, at centre-back is allowable due to that being an Eastern European tradition, though Roman Zobnin wearing 11 in central midfield is harder to justify.

Deploying a 4-2-3-1 formation, the ‘number 10’ Alan Dzagoev wore 9 while centre-forward Fyodor Smolov wore 10. Both wear 10 at club level, but in that instance, wouldn’t it make sense for Dzagoev to wear it rather than the shirt typically allocated to a centre-forward?

The rejection of traditional numbers that identify positions only continued, with left-winger Denis Cheryshev, who was a good performer, being allocated 6, reminiscent of David Bentley wearing 5 for Tottenham Hotspur.

In my view, odd number selections should at least bear some relativity to how the player plays, for example, Roberto Carlos being given 11 would have been acceptable during the end of the last century (in fact, full-back Aleksandr Kolarov did wear 11 for Serbia at this World Cup, which is representative of attack-minded full-backs being given numbers typically worn by wingers), or to the area of the pitch in which they play – a central midfielder wearing 7 would be deemed acceptable.

Deformation and restriction upon the role of the number 10, whether it be an allocated squad number, playing out of position or simply not being included in a teams squad at all (ahem, England), was actually quite common at this World Cup. Keisuke Honda, one of Japanese football’s finest products, was given a conspicuous number – in his case 4 and that was also the digit involved in the most questionable allocation.

Ivan Perisic, who was influential in Croatia reaching their first World Cup final, displaying excellent final-third movement and an eye for goal, was a left winger wearing 4, a number which should never been seen on a player of his style.

One comparison that comes straight to mind is Steven Gerrard who played on the left side of midfield for England during the 2010 World Cup wearing 4, though he had of course worn that number many times before in central midfield. On the other hand, Gerrard had also worn 11 in friendly matches prior to that World Cup.

Is there perhaps a very sensitive reason behind Perisic’s number choice, so much so that holding midfielder Marcelo Brozovic wore 11? Research led to no distinct reason, but, it would make the choice that much less confusing.

To be fair, there were some pleasing numbers and the shining glimmer of hope was England, whose choices were very hard to fault.

The right-sided defenders – Kyle Walker, Kieran Trippier and Trent Alexander Arnold – wore 2, 12 and 22 respectively, Jamie Vardy being awarded 11 was a great choice, and though no typical number 10 was selected in England’s squad or would play in England’s 3-3-2-2 system, Raheem Sterling with 10 on his back was also rather pleasent.

To sum up:


England: The best set of numbers in the tournament, coherent, position-oriented and subsequently likable.

Brazil: Douglas Costa bearing 7 being very good, but Marcelo and Filipe Luis, wearing 12 and 6 respectively could have been the other way around, although Marcelo does wear 12 for Real Madrid.

France: Much like England, a very good set of numbers and an improvement from Euro 2016, evidenced by Paul Pogba wearing 6 rather than 15.

Spain: Lucas Vazquez and 11 went hand in hand, I think.

Colombia: James Rodriguez and Juan Quintero, the rare sight of *two* 10s playing as 10s in one squad, wearing 10 and 20 respectively, was particularly satisfying.



Tunisia: Five of their starting XI against England wore number outside of 1-11, while a midfielder wore 9 and striker wore 8.

Russia: Hosted a very good World Cup, and kudos for reaching the quarter-finals, but the squad number game needs improvement.

Croatia: Perisic wearing 4 alone was highly ambiguous without any sentimental context, if there happens to be any. If so, the choice is completely understandable but if not, then why?

Portugal: Not necessarily a bad range of squad numbers, but it could have been altered a lot, in my opinion.

Switzerland: Much like Tunisia, many of their starting 11 wore numbers outside of the 1-11 range, which aroused questions.

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  1. Lorhan Pizzo
    August 21, 2018 at 14:31 — Reply

    In Brazil, left-backs usually wear number 6, so Filipe Luís having it is not a problem. Roberto Carlos, for instance, always wore it for the national team. Also, right-backs traditionally wear number 2 and centre-backs go with 3 and 4. Marcelo going with the 12 really is quite odd but, as stated, it is his number at Real Madrid. In Brazilian standards, number 12 has always been a goalkeeper number.

  2. Stig
    July 23, 2018 at 10:16 — Reply

    Perisic always played with number 4. It’s like C.Ronaldo wearing 7.
    Only at Inter he wears 44 due to Zanetti, At Club Brugge he wore 44 because of Carl Hoefkens already wearing 4.
    At Dortmund he wore 44 and in Europe 14.
    At Roeselare, where he broke the scene in Belgium, he wore 4.

    Only at Wolfsburg did he wear 9.

    So it’s just his favourite number.

    • July 23, 2018 at 10:28 — Reply

      Of course Stig, Ryan acknowledges that, he just says that he can’t find the original reason.

  3. Mark Schueler
    July 22, 2018 at 19:49 — Reply

    IMHO your 1-11 shirts should be, if not the first choice team, at least a playable combination.

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World Cup numbering hits and misses