Poacher, goal-getter, hitman, fox in the box or marksman – the alias may vary from team to team, though the job invariably remains the same. Get them the ball and they will win the game. Every nation competing at this summer’s World Cup in Russia has a game-changing talisman among their number. The luckier teams have several of them.
Alongside the chance to lift the World Cup trophy itself, those match winners will be battling it out for the competition’s individual awards. One of the most prestigious personal accolades up for grabs is the Golden Boot award, handed out to the top scoring player at the end of a World Cup.
Between 1982 and 2006, the award for the top scorer at a World Cup was actually called the “Golden Shoe”, though it was upgraded to a boot for the tournament in South Africa in 2010. Germany’s Thomas Muller won the Golden Boot in 2010 and Colombia’s James Rodriguez claimed the amber mukluk (I have petitioned FIFA to change the name of the award to the “Amber Mukluk” – no reply yet) last time out in 2014.
Let’s take a closer look at some of the contenders for the world’s most coveted footwear in 2018.
Edinson Cavani is a walking paradox of a centre forward. He is a unique blend of footballing opposites, in that he is one of the most prolific strikers around, but also one of the least clinical. Nevertheless, Cavani arrives in Russia after another 40-goal season for French champions Paris St. Germain.
Cavani has scored 42 goals in 100 appearances for his country too and with Uruguay sharing a group with three sub-standard defences (Russia, Saudi Arabia and Egypt), the 31-year old has a chance to rack up the goals early on. From there, Cavani’s chances of topping the charts will hinge on Uruguay’s overall chances of progression, and though they will expect to qualify from Group A, getting beyond the Quarter Finals is a much bigger ask. That would limit Cavani to 180 minutes (if there is no extra time) of football outside of the Group Stages, which would severely truncate his chances of winning the Golden Boot.
With 20 goals in 53 appearances for Les Bleus, Antoine Griezmann is the second top scorer in Didier Deschamps French World Cup squad behind Olivier Giroud (yes that’s true, go and check). It’s worth noting that France scored just 18 times during their qualification campaign, with Griezmann bagging only 4 of those, though you won’t find many teams at the World Cup with a more devastating set of attacking options on paper.
Transferring that talent from paper to the pitch has proved difficult at times for Deschamps and Griezmann’s chances of finishing as the top scorer in Russia could be hampered by his manager’s inability to get the best out of his embarrassment of riches.
Griezmann has however consistently proved his mettle on the biggest stage and was the top scorer at the 2016 European Championships, netting 6 times en-route to France’s Final defeat to Portugal. Griezmann will also relish the opportunity to further impress his many suitors this summer – the 27-year old has been batting his eyelashes suggestively at both Barcelona and Manchester United in recent weeks.
It seems bizarre, but Lionel Messi’s perceived lack of international success with Argentina is often used as a stick to batter his reputation with. Messi, who turns 31 in June, has scored 64 times in 124 appearances for this country – a full 10 goals more than Argentina’s next all-time top goal scorer Gabriel Batistuta.
Realistically, winning a World Cup would be just be the cherry on top for Messi and his career rather than an affirmation of his greatness. However, that won’t take away from his desperation to lift the trophy in Russia as captain.
No matter the game or the opponent, a Lionel Messi hattrick is never out of the question – he’s just that good. His left foot is a wand and the world is under it’s spell.
Read More: Argentina’s Greatest Ever XI
Cristiano Ronaldo already tops the all-time appearance and goalscoring list for Portugal with 149 caps and 81 goals amassed between his debut in August 2003 and his latest start in March of this year.
Of course, Portugal come into this summer’s World Cup as the current European Champions, though their triumph was built more on strong defensive foundations rather than explosive attacking play. The eventual champions scored just 9 times in their 8 tournament matches on their way to victory.
Portugal did average 3.2 goals per game in qualification for Russia however and Ronaldo smashed home 15 times in their 10 UEFA Group B contests. Ronaldo has hit 40 goals or more in 8 successive seasons at club level now and though his overall influence on matches has waned a little at 33, his ability to get his name on the scoresheet is yet to diminish.
Neymar is the conduit through which all good things flow for Brazil. The entire Canarinho attack has been moulded around the Paris St. Germain forward, and that allows the 26-year old to explore the spaces on the pitch with complete freedom.
Neymar has already hit the net 54 times in just 84 appearances for Brazil since his debut as an 18-year old in 2010. His chances of finishing as top scorer in Russia are enhanced by his country’s favourable Group stage draw. Brazil were drawn in Group E at this summer’s World Cup alongside Costa Rica, Serbia and Switzerland.
Tite’s men are expected to amble to a routine Group win and with Neymar guaranteed to be at the heart of their play in the final third, the former Barcelona attacker should rattle the net with regularity. With Brazil among the favourites to go all the way in Russia, Neymar should have ample opportunity to add to his Group tally.
Muller’s inclusion is as much about his country’s overall chances of winning the World Cup as it is about his merits as a goal scorer. Muller will take to the pitch in Russia with his confidence a little more fragile than usual having endured a campaign of ups and downs for his club Bayern Munich in 2017/18.
The Raumdeuter scored just 15 times in total for Bayern last season and there are rumours that the 28-year old is considering a chance of scenery in an attempt to revitalise his game. At international level, Muller rarely disappoints however.
Russia 2018 will be Muller’s 3rd World Cup tournament for current champions Germany and the serial winner scored 5 times in each of his last two appearances at the Finals in 2010 and 2014. The Germans have been tipped to retain their title in Russia and Muller will once again be a vital cog in Die Mannschaft’s winning machine.
Read More: Can Germany win back-to-back World Cups?
Fresh from an impressive first season as a Manchester United player, Belgian centre-forward Romelu Lukaku will be looking to carry his club form into this summer’s World Cup. Lukaku scored 11 times for Belgium during their free scoring qualification campaign, a total that put him out on his own as the top scorer in UEFA Group H, 5 clear of the second highest goal getter, Eden Hazard.
Belgium scored an incredible 43 goals in total across their 10 Group H fixtures and with the multitude of attacking talent at their disposal, the goals are expected to continue flowing in Russia. Belgium’s most dangerous opponents in World Cup 2018 Group G are England (stop laughing), though apart from the Three Lions, the rest of the section look like easy picking.
Roberto Martinez will be counting on big wins against Panama and Tunisia to catapult his team into the knock-out stages and Lukaku will be tasked with getting on the end of the chances created in those clashes by Kevin De Bruyne and Eden Hazard. Goals in those games should get Big Rom off to a perfect start in what should be a productive tournament for the 25-year old.
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