(Or if the World Cup had kept 1-11 numbering in force)
By Jim Hearson
2006: Italy 1 France 1 (aet, Italy won 5-3 on penalties)
By 2006, Italy’s famed block numbering was a thing of the past – players got the most suitable digits for their position, or were given what was left after the big guns had claimed their favourites. It’s certainly a system that works to our benefit, as this iteration is far from a headscratcher.
To complete the backline, Gianluca Zambrotta and Marco Materazzi can take numbers 2 and 6, respectively. Both had worn them on occasion during their careers, but they were two who were very much married to their favourite numbers.
The same is true for the Italians’ midfielders that need reassigning – Mauro Camoranesi had a penchant for 16, Simone Perrotta was a staunch supporter of 20, and Andrea Pirlo… well, I think we all know his usual choice. However, it’s all change here, and it’s quite simple to give them 7, 11 and 4 respectively due to their positions, although giving Pirlo a workmanlike number like that does leave you feeling a little grubby.
2010: Netherlands 0 Spain 1
This entry was so close to being redundant – had the Dutch claimed the trophy, we’d be moving onto 2014 already, as they lined up 1-11 – the first finalists to do so since squad numbering was introduced.
As it is, we’re stuck with Spain and while there would be a very easy way to get everyone in 1-11 – despite questionable choices like Joan Capdevila wearing 11 at left-back – let’s try to insert some personality with this one.
Sergio Ramos wearing his club-issued 4 starts us off, but that’s as simple as it gets… and causes quite a few knock-on effects. Logically, Ramos should have worn the spare 2, but where’s the fun in that? Instead, let’s give it to Pedro on the left wing – as nearly happened four years earlier.
That leaves us with two central midfielders, with one needing to take 9. Given his long association with Barcelona, it makes sense for Sergio Busquets to take it and emulate fellow Camp Nou alumnus Pep Guardiola at the 1992 Olympics and 1994 World Cup. We can finish on a high though, as the classy Xabi Alonso assuming 10 just gives you the warm and fuzzies, doesn’t it?
2014: Germany 1 Argentina 0
It may have been the same result as 1990, but Germany’s numbering is going to take a lot more work, due to the country’s adoption of continual squad numbers, in and out of tournaments.
Like Lilian Thuram in 1998, Philipp Lahm played at right-back and favoured 21 at club level, so the same solution makes sense – 2 for you, sir. Less well fitting is Jerome Boateng – despite having no association with 3, giving it to anyone else would be madness, so he’s stuck with it.
An easier one is Christoph Kramer in midfield – he’s worn 6 at Borussia Mönchengladbach for years, so he’s got the best claim for it here.
Again, we’re left with 9 and 10, but this one feels less awkward – similar to Alonso four years earlier, Toni Kroos in the latter doesn’t feel that incongruous, and while you may not naturally associate Thomas Müller with 9, it was assigned to the similarly not-really-a-forward André Schürrle in the squad, so that’s all the linkage we need.
2018: France 4 Croatia 2
And so to the reigning champions, France. It’s not the most taxing 1-to-11-ing we’ve seen, but it still leaves questions.
Lucas Hernandez is a left-back who favours 21, so reverse Zamoranoing to 3 is as much a gimme as you can hope for. However, it’s the remaining two that leave you wondering – do you go with positional sense or numerical preferences?
It’s a toughie, but I’m going with the latter – despite being on the left of midfield, Blaise Matuidi has adopted 8 at Inter Miami, the first time he’s shown a preference for a 1-11 number. By contrast, the 7 that N’Golo Kante wears at Chelsea is the longest time he’s held a number and, well, it still feels weird, so how much more weird would it be to give him the opposite winger’s number 11 here?
Probably no more weird that holding a World Cup in a desert just before Christmas, but that’s precisely where we find ourselves right now.