Unlucky 13, unless your name is Mueller

Johannesburg, July 1 (DPA) If you want to play in the World Cup final, better not choose jersey number 13 – unless your name is Mueller.

The number 13 is considered unlucky in many countries.

But football’s governing body FIFA has little sympathy for superstition. Since squad numbers were introduced, in 1954, the number 13 jersey has featured in all of the squads taking part in a World Cup.

Where it has not featured very often, however, is in the World Cup final itself. In the 14 showdowns played since 1954, just four players won the tournament wearing a number 13 jersey.

The number of players who have won an individual award at the World Cup finals while wearing the number 13 jersey is even smaller. In fact, they can be counted on one finger.

In 1966, Portugal achieved their best-ever result at the finals by finishing third, courtesy of a Mozambican-born striker called Eusebio.

Despite wearing the number 13, Eusebio scored nine goals – four of them in a 5-3 quarter-final win over North Korea – and won the Golden Boot award as the tournament’s top scorer. Eusebio is still today regarded as one of Portugal’s greatest.

The 1954 final pitted Hungary against Germany. Both teams had a number 13, but it was Germany’s Max Morlock who had the last laugh as his side stunned the seemingly invincible Hungarians 3-2.

The Nuremberg striker, who scored 21 goals in just 26 matches for his country, scored Germany’s first goal after Hungary had raced into a 2-0 lead after just eight minutes.

The next number 13 to appear in a World Cup final was Italy’s Angelo Domenghini in 1970. His side lost 4-1 to Brazil.

Four years later it was another German number 13 who appeared in the final. And just like Morlock 20 years earlier, Gerd Mueller not only ended up on the winning side, he scored in the host’s 2-1 victory against the Netherlands.

The Dutch side featured Johan Neeskens, the only number 13 to have ever played twice in a final. He lost both.

The only non-Germans to have won a World Cup with a number 13 jersey were Italy’s Gabriele Oriali, in 1982, and Brazil’s Aldair, in 1994.

Now another German is hoping to follow in Morlock’s and Mueller’s footsteps: Thomas Mueller. Like his more famous namesake Gerd Mueller, Thomas Mueller is a striker. His two goals in this year’s Round of 16 match against England sent the Three Lions crashing out.

Mueller was only given the number 13 because team captain Michael Ballack had to pull out from the squad with an injury.

But for Mueller, the number on his back is just that – a number.

‘I don’t really mind, the number you wear doesn’t make a difference to how you play – I’m not superstitious,’ he said.

History, however, appears to suggest that those who wear the number 13 on their back are less likely to play in the final.

For the superstitious, the situation would be even trickier if a World Cup game was played on Friday the 13th. Luckily, for them, that has happened only once, in 1986.