In the numbers game, 13 can be lucky for some

Paris: Footballers are known for their superstitions - be it putting one sock on before the other, last out onto the pitch (France’s William Gallas) or kissing your goalkeeper’s bald head - the French again in the shape of Laurent Blanc and Fabien Barthez.

England defender John Terry has various routines which the Chelsea star never deviates from - including always sitting in the same seat on the team bus - while teammate Jermain Defoe is on record as saying having a haircut can ward off the likelihood of injury.

Others swear by their shirt number: The number 10 shirt of Brazil and Argentina appears to be blessed with superhuman powers - or maybe it’s more to do with the stars who have worn it.

Argentina once tried to retire their number 10 shirt after Diego Maradona but that was before Lionel Messi came along, while the likes of Zico and current star Kaka have done their best to honour the legacy of Pele.

But spare a thought for those whose superstitious nature extends to “unlucky” number 13 - and there are 32 of them at this tournament.

Some of those assigned the “unlucky” shirt might reasonably expect to get to the final, such as Brazil’s Dani Alves, Argentina’s Walter Samuel or even Germany’s Thomas Mueller - though Italy’s Salvatore Bocchetti and England newcomer Stephen Warnock will be equally determined to shine.

Uruguayan striker Sebastian Abreu says he is unruffled about the number 13 on his back though they do call him “el loco” the crazy one, in his homeland.

“I’ve always asked for that number everywhere I have played,” says the man from Brazilian side Botofogo, whose boots even bear the inscription ‘Loco-13’.

Mario Lobo Zagallo, a double world champion as a player with Brazil and then championship-winning coach in 1970, was another counter-intuitive type who believed in the number 13.

“I liked the number 13,” says Zagallo, who explained there was a rather mundane reason behind the fact.

“It was because of my wife - she was a devotee of Saint Anthony,” whose feast day falls on June 13.

Saint Anthony is recognised in Brazil and his native Portugal as patron saint of couples.

France number 13 Patrice Evra won’t fall victim to superstition - not even under eccentric coach Raymond Domenech, who for reasons best known to himself does not like to pick players born under the astrological sign of Scorpio.

Fortunately for Evra, Domenech has asserted - albeit with tortured logic - that “I am not superstitious, it brings bad luck.”

Asian stars might prefer to avoid the number four shirt as that number traditionally brings bad luck to the extent that multistorey buildings often do not have a fourth floor.

So watch out Marcus Tulio Tanaka of Japan, Cho Yong Hyung of South Korea and Pak Nam Chol of North Korea.

But, Asian superstitions apart, can being assigned the number 13 shirt actually bring good fortune?

Not if your name is Michael Ballack.

The German veteran would have donned it for Germany but was ruled out of the finals with an ankle injury, meaning Thomas Mueller will claim his shirt.

Johan Neeskens wore 13 when Holland, with Johan Cruyff in his pomp wearing 14, lost to Germany in the 1974 World Cup final.

But the same match can pretty much lay the “unlucky” theory to rest as the man who scored the winner in that game was Gerd Mueller..... Germany’s number 13.

Bureau Report