What Jersey Numbers Mean in the World Cup

      June 02, 2010 07:29

      With the 2010 World Cup in South Africa just 9 days away, teams from 32 participating countries are busy making final preparations for one of the world's biggest sports events. Among the myriad concerns for players and their adoring fans are their uniform numbers, which can have iconic value.

      FIFA stipulates that the 23 players in the teams have jersey numbers from 1 to 23. But except for the goalkeepers getting No. 1, there is no special rule for number allocation within a team. Teams conventionally allocate certain numbers based on characteristics and roles of each player. The uniform number system was first introduced to football in England in 1928, and to the World Cup in Switzerland in 1954.

      Park Ji-sung wears the No. 14 shirt (left) in a friendly with Japan, and No. 19 in a match against Belarus.

      The players in the South Korean team, currently based in Austria for training, wore all the wrong jersey numbers during a friendly match against Belarus on Sunday, which they lost 0-1. Captain Park Ji-sung of Manchester United, who normally wears No. 7, had No. 19, and striker Park Chu-young of AS Monaco wore No.15 instead of his usual No.10. No.7 indicates a player capable of aggressive dribbling and accurate kicks, and No.10 is usually given to the top striker.

      The strategy of wearing wrong numbers was to confuse analysts from the countries Korea will face in the World Cup. The team used the same strategy in the friendly match against Japan on Monday last week, and will do so again in the last friendly before the World Cup against Spain at 1 a.m. on Friday this week.

      The most symbolic number in football is 10. In any team, No.10 is regarded as the best player with creative passing and exceptional shooting skills. Brazilian legend Pelé, Argentine genius Diego Maradona, Zinedine Zidane of France and Francesco Totti of Italy all had No.10 jerseys. No. 9 is awarded to the goal-scoring forward. Ronaldo of Brazil, who has scored the most goals in the World Cup with 15, is an example.

      No. 7 is usually preferred by midfielders who can dribble faster and run around to create space and opportunities such as Park Ji-sung and Cristiano Ronaldo of Portugal. The numbers between 2 and 5 are usually claimed by defenders. Paolo Maldini, who used to lead Italy's famous defensive line, had No. 3.

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