Number 10 flops at World Cup
Argentina's number 10 was without a single goal during the World Cup: Lionel Messi. (AP)
Paris - It has long been seen as the magic number in football, but the number 10 shirt has failed to live up to its star billing at the South African World Cup.
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Wearing the number ten on your back has earned exalted, almost sacred, status over the years thanks not least to the exploits first of Pele with Brazil, then Diego Maradona with Argentina with Zinedine Zidane reprising the role in 1998.
But while what the Brazilians call the 'dez' and the Argentines the 'diez' has taken on iconic stature, the current generation have thus far failed to live up to their forebears.
Brazil number ten Kaka had hoped to engrave his name in the World Cup hall of fame despite coming into the tournament on the back of an injury-plagued, below-par season at Real Madrid.
But his showing remained obstinately on a lower plane as the Brazilians never hit the heights of Pele's generation, bowing out meekly to the Dutch after Kaka again failed to hit the target.
Three assists and no goals was not what fans of the auriverde had been demanding.
As for Lionel Messi, the record books will show that his second World Cup finals ended in similar ignonimity as his first.
In 2006, he was left on the bench as Germany beat Argentina on penalties.
This time, he failed to live up to his billing as the world's greatest player, continually running down blind alleys as the Germans this time thrashed his countrymen 4-0.
England's Geoff Hurst set the historical bar sky high with his hattrick in the 1966 final. But fast forward four decades and this year's vintage, Wayne Rooney, endured a turgid tournament which saw him produce plenty of toil but with little reward.
The Manchester United terrier - scourge of English Premier League defences - saw the event completely pass him by as England struggled through the group stages before crashing out with a record loss to the Germans.
Meanhile, a detailed look at other squads from title-winning nations who disappointed shows that France and Italy also suffered from poor number ten showings with Sidney Govou and Antonio di Natale respectively not in the same league as Zidane or 1994 finalist Roberto Baggio.
For the United States, Landon Donovan did what he could as he sought to carve out a personal number ten story worthy of the name with his three goals while Diego Forlan continues to prove his class for Uruguay.
But neither is likely to be talked about in the same breath as a Pele, a Maradona, a Hurst or a Zidane.
As for other pretenders to the number ten crown, Cesc Fabregas would walk into most teams - but Spain believes they can keep a man even of his surpreme talents on the bench most of the time.
The Barcelona man, who at least played half an hour in Saturday's quarter-final win over Paraguay, rarely gets the chance to press his case.
At least he is still at the tournament - and so is Holland's Wesley Sneijder, star of a famous win over Brazil in the quarters, who has now scored four goals in South Africa.
The Dutch have been bridesmaids at this level for too long - witness their 1974 and 1978 final losses - so it now falls to the Inter Milan star to keep alive the legend of the perfect ten.