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The mystery of squad numbers at the Women’s World Cup: Unsolved 

The mystery of squad numbers at the Women’s World Cup: Unsolved 

The Women’s World Cup has provided an endless summer of talking points but one that seems to have slipped under most people’s radars is the absolute ‘shitshow circus’ of squad numbers on display.

Hosts France and the holders, USA, for all their brilliance, have been the major culprits in the dark arts of out-of-position numeration but are by no means the only guilty parties.  We have seen no. 10s at left-back, central midfielders wearing no. 3 and no. 9 and even a centre-back pairing of no. 7 and no. 8, if you can believe that?

USA starting line-up v France in Women’s World Cup quarter-final

However as the squadnos universe dictates, there has also been some beautiful squad numbering on show – only not quite enough of it to keep the balance in check. Brazil’s record-breaking World Cup queen and the most iconic no. 10 ever to play the women’s game, Marta, has once more graced the field while the likes of Scotland’s Kim Little and England’s Jill Scott have been holding it down for box-to-box midfielders in their no.8s.

There is something about skilled players wearing orthodox numbers that draws our attention, something wholesome. And there’s no reason why an unconventional number can’t do the same if it comes with some explanation – only at this World Cup there hasn’t exactly been very much of that.

So forget the, ‘Does the no.4 belong to a centre-back to a defensive midfielder’ debate for a moment and start thinking outside the box – way way outside the box. Here’s the good, the bad and the ugly from the Women’s World Cup:

The Good

Alex Morgan (ST) USA – 13

The first names that probably spring to mind when you think of no.13 are the Müllers, Gerd and Thomas, and Michael Ballack right? Not if you are Alex Morgan.

Morgan’s shirt has become epochal in the Stars and Stripes’ lineups but the truth is that it is actually a nod to the USWNT’s all-time record appearance maker Kristine Lilly, who played 352 times for her country. Morgan inherited the number from the legend when she retired in 2010 and between the two of them they have contributed a stonking 236 goals.

Lilly spent her career superstitious about the number and would often factor it into her training routines while Morgan has spent the last decade proving that there is nothing unlucky about 13. Morgan’s on-field look is completed with a pink hairband that has become a fashion statement and a beacon of solidarity for people battling breast cancer all rolled into one.

An unconventional and iconic look that deserves to celebrated.

Christine Sinclair (ST) Canada – 12

Another goal-machine who has elected to shun the orthodox striker numbers in favour of double-digits is Canada’s Chrstine Sinclair.

There can be no arguments over whether it has worked for the veteran as she needs just two more goals in international colours to level Abby Wambach’s all-time record of 184 for the USWNT.

Born on June 12 1983, Sinclair made her debut aged 16 and you could be forgiven for jumping to the conclusion that her number selection was birthday-related.

She actually wears the no. 12 jersey as an ode to her childhood idol, former Blue Jays second baseman Roberto Alomar, whose poster used to have a place her bedroom wall.

Now a seven-time Canadian Player of the Year and a goalscorer at five consecutive World Cups – it is safe to say she has done Alomar proud.

England v Cameroon

Of the 24 teams at this year’s World Cup, the Lionesses have been one of the best behaved when it comes to numbering their players.

Sadly, this isn’t recognised with an official award – it is something Fifa should consider, but their efforts deserve at least a mention.

In the last-16 win over Cameroon, Phil Neville almost fielded a perfect 1-11, including ten conventionally numbered players starting with first choice goalkeeper Karen Bardsley wearing no. 1 – which is more than can be said for the likes of France, Spain, Japan and others.

That is the first bit of good news, the second being that playing in front of her was a centre-back pairing of Steph Houghton, wearing the no. 5 and the armband, and Millie Bright next to her in no. 6. Lucy Bronze has proved why she is widely regarded as the best full-back in the world this summer and looks picture-perfect on the right-hand side in her no.2 while Alex Greenwood completed a perfectly numbered back line.

A midfield trio of the defensively-minded no. 4 Keira Walsh, the conductor Jill Scott in no. 8 and free-roaming no.10 Fran Kirby bridged the gap to the forwards, which feature the only unsightly shirt in the line-up.

Ellen White has been deadly in front of goal as Neville’s preferred striker but was given the no. 18 before the tournament – not a total disaster in comparison to some of what we have seen and one plus eight does at least equal nine – but she is the one player that has blocked England’s perfect 1-11.

Meanwhile, either side of her, Nikita Parris has owned the no. 7 shirt and the responsibility that comes with it while Toni Duggan’s no. 11 can be considered an upgrade on the no. 16 she has been forced to settle for at her club side Barcelona

The Bad

Elise Kellond-Knight (LB), Australia – 8

The first in a very long list of players wearing midfield numbers but playing in a defensive position at the World Cup – this one in particular makes very little sense.

Kellond-Knight is a well established defensive midfielder with more than 100 caps to her name and worthy of the no. 8 she wears on her back, so why has been been playing left-back at the World Cup in it?

It gets worse before it gets better because the no. 3 was assigned to 34-year-old Aivi Luik, who came on as a substitute in the Matlidas’ 4-1 win over Jamaica for her first ever World Cup appearance – a little bit of forward planning please guys?

Kellond-Knight’s defining moment of the tournament came when she stalled her side’s exit by scoring directly from a corner to force extra-time against Norway – the no. 8 and a corner flag have always looked sweet together.

Not enough to save Australia or herself from appearing on this list however and a very uncomfortable watch on the whole.

Lindsey Horan (CM), USA – 9

The declaration of war on the USWNT for their crimes against squad numbers has already been stalled too long – so here is the first shot fired.

If it really is a case of ‘Morgan doesn’t want the no.9. so someone else has to wear it’, don’t give it to Lindsey Horan, one of the best midfielders at the tournament.

You are the holders and pre-tournament favourites to retain your title so starting behaving like it.

You would actually do well to find a player who has been appropriately numbered in Jill Ellis’ squad besides Carli Lloyd in her picture-perfect no.10.

More to come on this…

Sam Kerr (ST), Ausralia – 20

Ordinarily there would be very little wrong with a striker lining up in no. 20, but with Sam Kerr it’s a different story.

The 25-year-old cuts one of the most laid-back figures you are every likely to see on a football pitch with her baggy shirt, low-tied ponytail and effortless skill she is sublime to watch.

Her speciality though is heading the ball in the goal and that has inevitably drawn comparisons to Socceroos legend Tim Cahill, someone Kerr has described previously as her ‘childhood inspiration’.

The skipper even mimics the classic Cahill corner flag celebration – so why doesn’t she wear no. 4 like Cahill did?

Kerr even scored four goals in one game against Jamaica, including two textbook headers and how fitting it would have been able to wheel away to the corner flag, rough it up a little and point to the number on the back of her shirt.

Perhaps the greatest moment never to happen at a World Cup and perhaps not – either way it is an opportunity missed.

The Ugly

Amel Majri (LB), France – 10

France starting line-up v Korea Republic

It wouldn’t be fair to wage war on USA without bringing France into the equation too with the hosts putting on a shocking display of squad numbering for fans.

Amel Majri is a modern forward-thinking full-back and could be forgiven for wearing the no. 7 as she does for her club team Olympique Lyon but there is no excuse for her wearing no. 10 for the national team.

To make matters worse, she was used in a more defensive back-four at the World Cup with Eugene Le Sommer (no. 9) preferred on the left-wing and France’s no. 7 Sakina Karchaoui playing a grand total of two minutes at the tournament.

Les Bleues possess one of the best defences in the world but their numbering leaft a lot to be decided with talismanic Wendie Renard playing centre-back in no. 3 and Marion Torrent wearing no. 4 and being used in the right-back position.

Conversely, captain Amandine Henry has been flying the flag for midfielders wearing no. 6 admirably all tournament – well done Amandine but, please, have a word.

Abby Dahlkemper (CB) USA – 7

The worst offence on this list and absolutely inexcusable.  Not just once to fill in for someone, either – no, she has played every game at the tournament in that position.

For their opener against Thailand, Dahlkemper was partnered with Julie Ertz at the back, meaning that the two American central defenders were wearing no. 7 and no. 8, further proving the incredible lack of number co-ordination.

Luckily, as the tournament has progressed, Ertz mad been moved further forward to adopt her more natural midfield position – phew.

Incredibly, Dahlkemper has not been the only culprit of this heinous sin in France either with Australia’s Steph Catley lining up in central defence wearing no. 7 on more than one occasion. I’ll probably write a book about this one day…

Samantha Mewis (CM) USA – 3 (and the rest of the USWNT)

If VAR was a player, she would play central midfield in the no. 3, because that is the most irking thing she could do, right?

Luckily, VAR isn’t a player and we don’t ever have to see that happen, but Samantha Mewis is a player and she is doing it instead.

Another gifted American midfielder showcasing her skills to the world in an out-of-position squad number – imagine the shock.

With Mallory Pugh going full Clint Dempsey and wearing the no. 2, Megan Rapinoe insisting on being brilliant but not upgrading her no. 15 shirt and Rose Lavelle doing very much the same in no. 16, the aesthetic experience of watching America play football has been tough, to say the least.


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1 Comment

  1. Avatar
    Soccer dad
    July 21, 2019 at 15:21 — Reply

    I am a Squad number puritist myself, hating high Squad numbers. I think no first team players should wear numbers higher then 25. But I like the idea of Squad numbers, they just have to be noe or semi-low.

    I coach my sons football team(8 year old kids), and was shocked when their kits arrived last year. We are 14 players on our team, and the natural thing would be to number them in digits between 1-18 og something. But no, we got kit numbers like 28, 29, 33, 34, 40 and 42. The only numbers between 1-11 was 5, 7 and 11, with 16, 17, 19, 22, 23 and 24 making up the numbers. 17, 22 and 29 was even on two shirts

    I asked the club representative og se could get kits with numbers 1-18, but be didnt seem to understand my question

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The mystery of squad numbers at the Women’s World Cup: Unsolved