Cristiano Ronaldo is a chance to be Top Goal Scorer in Brazil. Picture: AP/dailytelegraph.com.au
Leading into every footballing competition, there’s one honour every striker has their eyes on – the Golden Boot award. Presented to the player who scores the most goals in the tournament, this year’s Golden Boot winner in Brazil will go down in history alongside household names such as German legend Gerd Muller and Brazilian striker Ronaldo. The 2010 World Cup in South Africa surprisingly saw Thomas Muller emerge as the tournament’s top goal scorer, the German midfielder a rank outsider and proving you don’t have to play up front to take down the award. So with the World Cup fast approaching, who are the leading contenders to be Top Goal Scorer in Brazil?
Lionel Messi (Argentina)
Barcelona and Argentina captain Lionel Messi has been regarded as one of the best players of all time, even at the early age of 26. The Argentinian enters the World Cup as favourite to take out the Golden Boot and it’s hard to go past the star striker. Messi is in the prime of his career right now and with coach Alejandro Sabella utilising him as a striker, rather than a provider like in previous years, he is expected to score everytime he puts the blue and white jersey on. What will heavily favour Messi in taking out this award is the seemingly easy group Argentina are drawn in. The South Americans come up against Bosnia-Herzegovina, Nigeria and Iran in the group stage, all teams they should beat comfortably and matches Messi will hit the back of the net in on more than one occasion.
Youngster Neymar will have the hopes of the hosting nation on his shoulders from the first whistle of the opening match and this year’s competition is the perfect platform to assert himself as the greatest Brazilian footballer since Pele. The 22-year-old caught the eyes of football fans in his time playing for Santos in the Brazilian league, before signing for Spanish giants Barcelona for a reported transfer fee of $84 million. Scoring 14 goals in his debut season for Barca, Neymar has hit the ground running and has impressed just as much on an international level, netting 30 goals in just 47 appearances. There’s no doubting Neymar’s credentials to take out the award, and with Brazil firm favourites to win the World Cup, the hosts should play the maximum possible seven matches, giving him the opportunity to score more goals than other contenders.
Cristiano Ronaldo (Portugal)
With 31 league goals for Real Madrid and the winner of last year’s Ballon D’Or, Cristiano Ronaldo has strong claims he will score the most goals in Brazil. Ronaldo is often compared with Messi as the second best player in the world over the past five years or so, and winning this award ahead of the Argentinian will go a long way to prove his critics wrong. The Portuguese is the ultimate footballer; his pace, strength and power is second to none and without him, Portugal would have struggled to book their spot in Brazil. The only query regarding Ronaldo’s chances of winning the Golden Boot is the lack of service he gets from his colleagues. They are also drawn against the likes of Germany, Ghana and USA; all teams with resilient defences and will no doubt be focused on keeping Ronaldo at bay.
Luis Suarez (Uruguay)
Liverpool’s resurgence this season is undoubtedly due to the pure class that Luis Suarez possesses. The Uruguayan is by far the most in-form striker in the world right now, managing 31 domestic goals to take out the English Premier League Golden Boot. What makes that statistic even more incredible is the fact that Suarez missed the first six games of the season for Liverpool, meaning those 31 goals came in just 31 appearances. Uruguay is usually there or there about in World Cup competitions, and they will go a long way if Suarez can carry his form for Liverpool into the national team come June. Again, like Portugal, Uruguay has a tough draw against defensively strong sides in their group, including Italy and England. But few defences have struggled to contain Suarez this season and he looks certain to notch a majority of his team’s goals.
Diego Costa (Spain)
One player that will be booed by millions of fans in Brazil is Athletico Madrid’s Diego Costa. Much controversy surrounded the Brazilian-born player last year when snubbed the host nation and opted to represent Spain in the World Cup. Put aside the controversy, the striker has been a major component in his club’s success this season, mustering 27 league goals in 34 appearances. Costa will have the service from an array of world class player makers including Iniesta, Xavi, Silva, Alcantara, Fabregas, Carzola, Koke, the list goes on. He shouldn’t have any excuses not to find the back of the net on more than one occasion. You would think his odds would be a lot shorter, but the reason why is has such value is due to the lack of games he has played for Spain. Zero in fact. He has never taken the field for the reigning champions but is poised to slot straight into the starting 11 due to his club form. Costa is a tempting bet at the odds he is to be Top Goal Scorer, but the lack of chemistry he has with teammates may prove to be decisive.
Sergio Aguero (Argentina)
Another Argentinian who has strong claims to beat the leading scorer in Brazil is Manchester City’s front man Sergio Aguero. Netting 17 goals in 23 appearances this campaign for City, Aguero was pivotal in City’s triumph in the English Premier League. If it wasn’t for a string of injuries that forced him on the sidelines for over a third of the season, Aguero could have challenged Suarez for the domestic Golden Boot. His chances of winning that award in Brazil are strong, but with teammates Messi and Higuain also with their eye the same honour, he may struggle to find the net more than them, especially if he is crippled with more injuries.
Karim Benzema (France)
Having struggled through qualifiers, France were gifted with one of the easiest passages through to the round of 16 when they were drawn alongside Switzerland, Ecuador and Honduras. With French playmaker Frank Ribery currently at the peak of his career, Real Madrid striker Karim Benzema could profit with quality service. France look certain to rack up a large number of goals in the group stages against defensively weak sides, which highlights their star striker as a real dark horse to take out the Golden Boot. Benzema enjoyed a solid campaign with Real Madrid, netting 17 times in La Liga within a team that possess a collection of in-and-out goal scorers. At the outrageous odds of $41, it seems too tempting not to lay down an investment on the Frenchman.
Romelu Lukaku (Belgium)
If there was to be a dark horse that is capable of upsetting any of the big guns in Brazil, it is the up and coming Belgium side. With a strong starting 11 from the Goalkeeper to Striker, the Belgians will be hard to crack. With the news star striker Christian Benteke is out of action with an Achilles problem, the limelight will shine on the little known Romelu Lukaku. Picked up by Chelsea, Lukaku was sent on loan to Everton where he has raised eyebrows this season with 15 goals for the Toffees. His large physical presence, strength on the ball and lethal finishing is the making of a goal scorer capable of finding the net on a number of occasions. Like Argentina and France, Belgium has been blessed with a relatively easy group that they should top comfortably and score plenty of goals in the process. With an established chemistry with both Belgian playmakers Eden Hazard and Kevin Mirallas, he could prove good value at the juicy odds of $41.
It’s hard to go past the favourite Lionel Messi to finish Top Goal Scorer in Brazil. He ticks all the boxes when making a selection – he is one of the most clinical finishers in the game, arguably in the best form of his career, his side is drawn in a group that they will score plenty of goals in and he has team mates around him that will provide him with good service.
Messi’s biggest threat may come from French striker Karim Benzema. Like Argentina, France has been gifted with defensively weak teams in their group and this is where, as history has shown, most of the goals will be scored by the Golden Boot winner. Benzema’s price of $41 is some seriously good value for punters. There is no doubt he will feature on the scoresheet for France, the only question is how far will the side progress in the tournament. Obviously the more games France play, the more goals Benzema has the opportunity to score in, and that is the risk represented in his value.