The highest scorers at the FIFA World Cup have only ended up with a winner’s medal 4 out of 20 times, but whether they win or not, they are always remembered as heroes.
The Golden Boot – previously known as the more pedestrian (don’t kill me) Golden Shoe – has been won by a remarkable range of players, including legendary strikers like Eusebio, Gerd Muller and Ronaldo. It’s also been won by unheralded young players who aren’t even strikers. It doesn’t have to be some experienced striker who wins the award – James Rodriguez and Thomas Mueller won the last two awards despite not even playing as strikers, and made themselves household names in the process.
So who will it be this time? Will it be an established goal-machine like Lionel Messi, who’s finished as the top scorer in Europe yet again this season? Will it be someone who is an important part of a team but isn’t expected to take the prize? Or will it be some new youngster who’ll burst onto the scene?
The Usual Suspect: Thomas Muller
Thomas Muller was a revelation at the 2010 World Cup, netting 5 goals and setting up 3 more. The gangly German can play anywhere in attack, whether on the right, the left, or just behind the main striker – heck, he can even play as centre-forward. A self-proclaimed ‘Raumdeuter’ (which loosely translates as an interpreter or finder of space), Muller is extremely adept at understanding exactly where to be at just the right time, which gets him into great scoring positions for his team time after time.
He was the Golden Boot winner in 2010 and finished second with 5 again in 2014. Joachim Loew’s Germany are a very fluid side up front with no real focal point and lots of interchanging movement, which should benefit the Bayern Munich man, who looked back to his best this season after a poor 2016-17.
Will he be able to get close to his compatriot Miroslav Klose, whose 16 World Cup finals goals are the record? The smart money says yes, looking at his past record, his playing qualities, and the fact that Germany always make it to the business end of tournaments.
The New Fenomeno: Neymar Jr
Neymar was the main man for Brazil in 2014, and was sorely missed (along with a defence, midfield and mental fortitude) when injury ruled him out of the semi-final. This year, he is not just the de facto captain, but will wear the armband as he tries to lead the Selecao to victory. The PSG forward has returned from injury just in time, proving his match-fitness with a fantastic goal in a friendly against Croatia a few days ago.
In Tite’s 4-3-3 system, Neymar is likely to start as a left forward, but with a license to dribble and glide past players, before shooting or setting up teammates. He has a fantastic scoring record for the national side, and has the advantage of not having to do everything himself anymore – Gabriel Jesus can bang in the goals too, while Philippe Coutinho, Renato Augusto, and Willian can create chances for him.
He was in fine form for PSG this season and racked up incredible numbers despite an injury which kept him out for months – 27 goals and 16 assists in 30 games. He’s the best he’s ever been, and could be the man to drive Brazil to the Cup and do what Ronaldo (the original O Fenomeno) did for them in 2002 when he scored 8 and won the Golden Shoe.
The Talisman: Lionel Messi
Lionel Messi dragged Argentina to this World Cup almost by the force of his own will. He comes into the tournament on the back of another superlative club season, inspiring Barcelona to the title in a year when everyone expected them to falter, and scoring more goals than anyone else in Europe.
Messi was the driving force behind Argentina’s run to the World Cup final in 2014, but he was unable to work his magic on the grandest stage, and failed in the subsequent Copa America in 2016. It’s difficult to blame him for this – the rest of the team just hasn’t chipped in with goals and assists, too often forcing him to be scorer, playmakers and creator for the team.
But with the arrival on the scene of Paulo Dybala who can also score and perform a playmaking role for the side, Argentina have a good shot at going far in the Cup, and give Messi the support he needs. Allowing La Pulga to do at this competition what he’s been doing for the last 10 years – score an utterly unreasonable number of amazing goals.
The Big Men Up Top
41 goals for Spurs this season. Eight goals in his last seven games for the Three Lions. Captain of a young, vibrant England squad, consistently prolific for the last four seasons.
Harry Kane is a dream striker who can do everything: Hold up play, press, run the channels, link with midfielders. But what he’s best at is scoring goals, and he can score all sorts of goals – tap-ins, headers, or long-range worldies.
Gareth Southgate’s team has the players to supply their main man, and with Tunisia and Panama to face in the group, Kane should be able to get a fair few goals before England’s inevitable loss in the knockout stages (though this is a more balanced side than in recent years, so you never know).
23 goals in 26 games for Belgium ever since becoming the main striker in 2016 tells you a bit about why the Manchester United no 9 is one to watch out for in the goalscoring stakes.
Sure, Lukaku’s finishing can sometimes be a bit off, and his first touch can desert him, but he’s a much-improved player over the last few seasons, and surely this Belgium side will create enough chances for him to score even if he misses a few. Eden Hazard and Dries Mertens will be on the wings in support of the big man, and Lukaku will be relishing the thought of Kevin De Bruyne pulling the strings in midfield – the City man finished with the most assists in the Premier League this season and looks capable of setting up goals in his sleep.
Given his poor goal-scoring record in World Cup campaigns – only 3 goals in 3 games – Cristiano Ronaldo is a risky inclusion in this list. But he has spent the last three seasons honing his ability to come good in the final stages of a season, and it has paid massive dividends for Real Madrid, playing a crucial role in their three consecutive Champions League triumphs.
Ronaldo has become a hyper-efficient no 9, no longer operating on the left wing and haring past defenders, instead picking up space in the forward positions and using his lethal finishing – left foot, right foot, head – to score goal after goal after goal. This hasn’t been only for his club, but also for Portugal – he’s scored 26 goals in his last 27 for them (since the beginning of 2016), the most prolific scoring form he’s had for the national side.
With this Portugal side being a lot more balanced than even the one which won Euro 2016 (Bernardo Silva in particular), they have a decent chance at making far in this tournament, and there’s a more than decent chance Ronaldo will score as long as they keep going.
The Left-Field Candidates
The French sensation has often been compared to Thierry Henry, and this World Cup could well provide him with a platform to take his game to the next level much like a young Henry did at France 1998.
He’s lightning quick, burns defenders with his pace, and has a pretty decent scoring record ever since he burst onto the scene for Monaco last year. 21 goals and 11 assists in all competitions for PSG last season are superb numbers for someone yet to turn 20, especially since he plays from the wing.
Expect him to score goals in whichever set-up Didier Deschamps goes with at the World Cup – playing off Giroud on the right of a 4-2-3-1 or interchanging with Griezmann and Dembele in a 4-3-3. An easy Group C, and France’s likely run to the semis or thereabouts, should provide him ample opportunity to run for the Golden Boot.
David Silva comes into this World Cup after a great season with Manchester City, pulling the strings in central midfield alongside Kevin De Bruyne, scoring 10 and setting up 13.
Those may not seem like Golden Boot numbers, but Silva for Spain plays in a far more advanced position, and is their fourth-highest goalscorer of all time, with 35 goals for La Furia Roja. He’s come up with goals on big occasions as well, scoring in the Euro 2008 semi-final against Russia, and the Euro 2012 final against Italy.
His goal-scoring responsibilities have increased in Julen Lopetegui’s set-up, and he seems to have thrived in it, scoring 9 in 12 games. The Spanish system doesn’t rely on a centre-forward to score, and will create as many chances for Silva and Isco as it does for whoever plays up front with them in the 4-3-3. So go on then, put him in your fantasy football team and watch the points roll in.
The man signed by Barcelona to replace Andres Iniesta has developed, over the last few seasons, into one of the finest attacking midfielders in the world. 22 goals and 13 assists for Liverpool and Barca over the season give you an indication of what he can do, and that’s just a taster.
Coutinho can play on any wing in a 4-3-3, or as a central midfielder with the ability to get forward. His specialty is his ability to score goals from outside the box – Eight last season – and he loves combining with pacy forwards to score and create. With Neymar, Gabriel Jesus, his old Liverpool pal Roberto Firmino and Willian in the Brazil squad, he should have a pretty decent chance to steal the Golden Boot from the favourites at this FIFA World Cup 2018.