In a world dominated by #10s, our defensive heroes often go unnoticed. It’s in this light that we chose to highlight four of the best soccer players who will wear the #4 (a defensive number par excellence) at the Copa America Centenario this summer. You know, those defensive forces behind the success of our favorite teams, the guys who may not exude the glitz and glamour of a Messi, Neymar, or Chicharito, but whose impact should not be taken for granted.
Check these cracks for yourselves below:
Pablo Zabaleta, Argentina
A right back with a ridiculous success rate – he’s won the English Premier League (2012 and 2014), FA Cup (2011), and League Cup (2014) trophies with Manchester City – Zabaleta started representing his country’s senior squad back in 2005. He was a member of La Albiceleste’s gold-medal winning Beijing 2008 team before being dropped by Diego Maradona ahead of the 2010 World Cup in South Africa. But no worries – he was back in action four years later in Brazil, making his WC debut in a 2–1 victory over Bosnia and Herzegovina at the Maracanã.
In last year’s Copa América, Zabaleta sent the cross into club and country compatriot Kün Aguero, who headed it home to produce that goal en route to a huge 1–0 win against Uruguay. If recent qualifiers are any indication, we might see the 31-year-old off the bench behind Gabriel Mercado and others this summer.
David Luiz, Brazil
Seleção vice-captain and mainstay defender David Luiz made his full international debut in 2010. In the half a decade since, he’s gone on to make over 50 appearances, winning the 2013 Confederations Cup and reaching the semifinals of the 2014 World Cup (you know, that day we don’t like to dwell on). He netted his first international goal in a 1–1 tie against Chile in the round of 16 that year, and proceeded to convert the first penalty kick in the shootout, before smashing home this gamewinner from distance vs. Colombia in the semifinals.
This will no doubt be an interesting summer for the Brazilian, as he’s rumored to be on his way out from Paris Saint-Germain, where he currently plays his club ball. He’s fallen behind 21-year-old Marquinhos as Thiago Silva’s central defense partner in Laurent Blanc’s side as of late. Only time will tell where he’s off to next.
Mauricio Isla, Chile
Another Latino star kicking it in France – he’s on loan at Olympique de Marseille from Juventus – Isla is a quick, versatile defensive player and solid presence in the Chilean backline with plenty of European experience to boot. He flew across the pond back in 2007 to play for Udinese, joined Juventus in 2012 (where he won two Scudettos in his first two seasons, imagine that), and completed a brief loan stint in England before touching down in France.
Isla gained legendary status when he scored La Roja’s lone goal in the 81st minute of a quarterfinal win over Uruguay at the 2015 Copa América, heroically putting his country into the last four for the first time since 1999.
Rafael Marquez, Mexico
It would be remiss of us to omit 36-year-old Michoacán crack Rafael Márquez from this list, despite his wildly underwhelming homecoming with Atlas in Liga MX action this Clausura. Rafa Márquez is the #4, the OG defensive icon with mind-blowing ball control and spatial awareness and unmatched confidence coming into tackles. It remains to be seen whether Juan Carlos Osorio will include him in his plan this summer, but we sure as hell hope he does.
In case you somehow forgot (it’s ok, we forgive you), Rafa’s storied career started with a speedy move to Europe in 1999, when he joined AS Monaco and won a Ligue 1 trophy in his first season with the club. In 2003, he moved to Barcelona, where he (along with center back duo Puyol) went on to anchor the defense that won a whopping four La Liga trophies. Did we mention he became the first Mexican player to ever lift a Champions League trophy too? Yeah.
Rafa is the only player in fútbol history to captain his national team in four separate World Cups – 2002, 2006, 2012, and 2014 – and he’s come in clutch with goals converted; he scored in the round of 16 vs. Argentina, the opening match vs. South Africa, and the important 3-1 partidazo vs. Croatia. MITO.