Shirt numbers don’t play football, but some of the greatest ever to play the game of football have adorned the famous jersey Number 10. The Number 10 jersey in football often denotes something extraordinary.
Some of the best individual performances at the World Cup have come from players wearing this magical jersey number, so ten days before the 2022 edition kicks off in Qatar, we will be focusing on some of the best-performing Number 10s in the last ten World Cup tournaments.
10. Zico (Spain 82)
Having been voted South America’s Player of the year in 1981 and 1982, Zico was undoubtedly one of the best players going into the 1982 World Cup in Spain. He was a classic Number 10 who could easily link midfield and attack with his incredible vision and passing range. Zico was equally adept at taking set pieces and had a decent scoring record. Despite losing out to eventual winners, Italy, in the second round, Zico ended the tournament with four goals and contributed to eight of the fifteen goals scored by the Selecao.
9. Maradona (Mexico 86)
Diego Maradona led Argentina to win their second World Cup title.
The quarter-final game against England captured the legend himself as he single-handedly put England to the sword with two goals. If there was any doubt regarding the legitimacy of the first goal, now referred to as “Hand of God,” the second goal was voted “Goal of the Century” as he rode past five challengers before rounding Peter Shilton. He ended the competition with five goals, a winner’s medal, the Golden ball, and seven-goal contributions.
The shirt worn in the game against England became the most expensive Sports memorabilia when it was auctioned for more than 8 million US Dollars.
8. Lothar Matthaus (Italia 90)
Matthaus became the first and only German in 1991 to be named FIFA World Player of the year, given his impressive performance in the 1990 World Cup as he captained West Germany to the title. Referred to by Maradona as the best rival he ever had, he captained West Germany to a 1-0 victory over Argentina in the final to revenge the defeat of 1986 final.
Matthaus finished the tournament with four goals, three coming from outside the box. He was the driving force behind the team and could think, pick a pass and shoot from a distance.
7. Roberto Baggio (USA 94)
Roberto Baggio was the Azurri’s top scorer in qualifying, with five goals and seven assists in eight games. Coming into the tournament as the FIFA World Player of the Year, Baggio had a subdued first round, with Italy barely scrapping through as one of the best third-placed teams. He came alive in the second-round scoring twice to help ten-man Italy beat a very entertaining Nigeria team.
He ended the competition with five goals but will most likely be remembered for missing the crucial spot kick which handed the title to Brazil.
6. Zidane (France 98)
Many will remember France 98 more for the underdog story of Croatia and Davor Suker. It was a quiet one for the Number 10s. Brazil’s Rivaldo chipped in with three goals without looking particularly exceptional. However, in the biggest game of the showpiece, Zidane wrote his name into the history books as he buried two headers to hand the host nation their maiden World Cup title. His brilliant display in the final came as a redemption for his deserved red card against Saudi Arabia in the tournament’s Group stage. Les Blues won the tie against Brazil by three goals, the highest margin in the final.
5. Rivaldo (Korea/Japan 2002)
Regarded as one of the finest midfielders of his generation, Rivaldo was known for his agility, creativity, and ability from set pieces. He possessed a wand of a left foot and scored in the first five matches to help Brazil eventually clinch the title. He formed a deadly attacking trio with the tournament’s best player, Ronaldo, and the emerging Ronaldinho.
Rivaldo’s memorable playacting to get Hakan Unsal sent off in injury time of their group stage clash with Turkey later earned him a retrospective fine. Brazil had gotten a late corner kick, and Hakan Unsal kicked the ball forcefully at Rivaldo. The ball hit him in the knee, but he went down clutching his face.
4. Zidane (Germany 2006)
Appearing for the second time on our list is Zidane. The legendary midfielder returned from International retirement to inspire his compatriots in what looked like a masterstroke from Coach Domenech.
The mercurial midfielder truly owned this tournament. His peak performance came in the quarter-final game, where he tortured the entire Brazil team and helped France to a narrow win over the defending champions. He finished the tournament with three goals and the Golden ball, but sadly, his involvement ended with a red card for headbutting Italy’s Marco Materazzi in the final. This was his last action as a professional footballer.
3. Diego Forlan (South Africa 2010)
Forlan became the first player to score three goals outside the penalty area since Lothar Matthaus did it in 1990. Forlan owned the Jabulani, and it seemed every shot would nestle into the roof of the net.
Uruguay lost the third-placed match to Germany in a game that could have gone into a shootout if Forlan’s last-minute free-kick had not hit the bar. He was awarded the best player and joint top scorer with five goals.
2. Lionel Messi (Brazil 2014)
Controversially, Messi takes this position ahead of Colombia’s James Rodriguez, who finished the tournament with the Top scorer and best goal awards. Aiming to repeat Maradona’s 1986 feat, Leo led his country to the final with four goals and an assist. His mazy runs, incisive passing, and dribbling saw him produce the highest number of through-balls. You can argue that if Higuain and Rodrigo Palacio did not fluff their lines against Germany, the Argies could have been World Champs on Brazilian soil.
1. Luka Modric (Russia 2018)
Luka Modric finished the tournament with just two goals, but the little magician captained his country to a second-placed finish, just a step better than their 1998 compatriots.
Famed for his accurate outside-of-the-boot passes, Modric was the ultimate metronome for his team, and they fell short only at the final hurdle to an inspired France team. He would eventually be named FIFA World Player of the Year.
It is just ten days before the 2022 World Cup in Qatar. Who is your favourite Number 10 going to light up the World Cup?