The Golden Boot at the World Cup, or Artilheiro da Copa as the Brazilian’s call it, has a very rich history, being won by the likes of Gerd Muller, Ronaldo (the real one), Thomas Muller, Miroslav Klose, Gary Lineker, and a dude named Just Fontaine. The fun part about this award is trying to predict who will win it. For example, during the 1994 World Cup in the United States, Oleg Salenko became the only player to win the Golden Boot playing for a team that never made it past the group stages. He scored six goals, and those were the only international goals he ever scored.
Before making some predictions, I’d like to point out some statistics. The average number of goals required to win the Golden Boot is 7.16 goals. Since you obviously can’t score .16 of a goal, lets round up to 8. So, 8 goals will win you the Golden Boot? Probably, but let’s take a look at the history. Aside from Brazilian Ronaldo in 2002, no one has scored 8 or more goals in a World Cup since Gerd Muller scored 10 in the 1970 World Cup. Remember that 7.16 number? Let’s round it down to 7. Again, aside from Brazilian Ronaldo in 2002, no one has scored 7 or more goals in a World Cup since Grzegorz Lato in the 1974 World Cup. In every World Cup from 1978-1998, the Golden Boot winner scored 6 goals. In the last two World Cups, the Golden Boot winner (Miroslav Klose in 2006 and Thomas Muller in 2010) scored 5 goals. For the sake of our argument, lets challenge the players at the World Cup and say that the Golden Boot winner will be required to score six goals. I’ll break this down in to three categories: The Favorites, In The Running, and The Outsiders. The Favorites is pretty explanatory – the guys that everyone is picking. In The Running will provide multiple players with short explanations about my belief in them. And lastly, The Outsiders are perhaps lesser-known players to keep an eye on in Brazil. Now, time to dive in!
(Edit: Yes, I’m aware that this article came out on Day 2. However, if you wouldn’t include Neymar in possible Golden Boot winners, I’d have to check your pulse.)
Neymar (Brazil) – Hot off leading Brazil to a Confederations Cup Trophy and a superb season at Barcelona, Neymar is looking to bring the World Cup Trophy back to Brazil for the first time since 2002. He has the pressure of an entire country on his shoulders. If Chile or Netherlands can squeak by and give Spain a 2nd place finish in Group B, and Brazil wins Group A, Brazil could exit the tournament in the Round of 16, and give Neymar just four games to reach the magic number (six). If that’s the case, I don’t see Neymar getting six goals against Mexico, Croatia, Cameroon, and Spain. If Brazil and Spain win their respective groups, Brazil should at least reach the semifinals, and face off against Germany. Scoring six goals in at least five games is much more realistic. (Edit: Looks like Neymar is one-third of the way to the magic number.)
Lionel Messi (Argentina) – Is he the best player in the world? Possibly. Want to silence the haters? Win the Golden Boot while leading your team to a World Cup Trophy. Messi has the ability to do just that. After a “down” year where Messi recorded 36 goals in 38 games (La Liga and Champions League), Messi is undeservedly under the microscope. In a group that includes Bosnia & Herzegovina, Iran, and Nigeria, there are goals to be scored in Group F. In an attacking group that includes the likes of Messi, Sergio Aguero, Gonzalo Higuan, and Ezequiel Lavezzi, perhaps there are too many good players to score the amount of goals to be had. Iran and Nigeria have very leaky defenses (as perhaps you may have noticed during the USA-Nigeria friendly). Bosnia & Herzegovina are a solid team with a very solid goalkeeper, Canadian-Bosnian Asmir Begovic. It is very possible that Messi gets at least three goals during group play. If Argentina wins the group, they would play the 2nd place finisher in a wide-open Group E (Ecuador, France, Honduras, and Switzerland) during the Round of 16. Argentina should have no problem beating any of those four teams, and would likely play Belgium in the Quarterfinals. Argentina should play at least five games, and Messi has a very good chance of getting at least a brace in one of those games, getting him to the magic number of six.
In The Running
Cristiano Ronaldo (Portugal) – Not considering him a “favorite” was very tough, but there’s some question marks with Ronaldo’s case. Most importantly, will Portugal even survive the group stage? Will his knee hold up? Portugal relies on Ronaldo, a lot. For Ronaldo to win the Golden Boot, they will need to make it to the Quarterfinals at the very least. If they finish 2nd, they’ll most likely face their death against Belgium in the Round of 16, cutting Ronaldo’s dream short. It’s going to take some Ronaldo magic if he wants to reach the magic number.
Edin Dzeko (Bosnia & Herzegovina) – He’s the target man, and Bosnia’s best player. He will also most likely be the tallest player on the field at any given time. If Bosnia can finish 2nd in Group F, they would face the winner of Group E (Ecuador, France, Honduras, and Switzerland). Bosnia have the ability of giving any of those four teams a run for their money, and Dzeko will have plenty of playing time to reach the magic number.
Romelu Lukaku (Belgium) – In Belgium’s 4-3-3, Lukaku is going to be relied on to fight off the centerbacks and put the ball in the back of the net. Having a top 3 Premier League player (Eden Hazard) to his left will only help his chances. Lukaku scored 4 goals in Belgium’s three pre-World Cup friendlies (recorded a hat trick against Luxembourg). Belgium has arguably the easiest group in the tournament (Algeria, South Korea, and Russia), and will play whatever team survives the Group of Death (Germany, Ghana, Portugal, and USA). Assuming that Germany wins the group, Belgium should have little trouble defeating any of the remaining three teams. That sets them up for a potential Quarterfinals matchup against Argentina, giving Lukaku at least five games to reach the magic number.
Sergio Aguero (Argentina) – See Messi, Lionel.
Miroslav Klose (Germany) – Klose is only one goal from tying the all-time record for goals scored by a player in their World Cup career (set by the real Ronaldo (15), and two goals away from breaking the record. In a team with so much firepower, Klose may not even see the starting XI. However, expect him to come off the bench around the 60th minute in most games, and score some garbage time goals. Germany has a very good chance of reaching the World Cup Final, too.
Luis Suarez (Uruguay) – Possibly the best striker in 2013-14. If they can survive Group D (Costa Rica, England, Italy, and Uruguay), they would face one of Colombia, Greece, Ivory Coast, or Japan (Group C) in the second round. Uruguay could play at least four games. After the season that Luis Suarez had, I would not put anything past this man.
Gonzalo Higuan (Argentina) – See Messi, Lionel.
Thomas Muller (Germany) – With Marco Reus missing the World Cup due to an ankle injury during Germany’s final pre-World Cup friendly, the defending Golden Boot winner may get to see some playing time at striker. Also, as mentioned, Germany’s chances of reaching the World Cup final are very, very good.
Angel di Maria (Argentina) – If Argentina can win the World Cup, would anyone be having a better 2014 than Angel di Maria? Although they suffered a disappointing collapse in La Liga, di Maria is fresh off a Champions League title after Real Madrid won La Decima just under a month ago. He was arguably the best player in the Champions League final, and should continue that run of form in to the World Cup. Perhaps teams are going to place all of their focus on Argentina’s attack of Messi, Aguero, Higuan, and Lavezzi, thus giving di Maria time and space to work – which can be very deadly. Sidenote: is there a luckier player in the world than Angel di Maria? He gets to play with Cristiano Ronaldo at Real Madrid, and now Lionel Messi with Argentina.
A striker from Spain – This all relies on Diego Costa’s hamstring. If he’s okay to go, Costa could be deadly for anyone that faces Spain this year. Fernando Torres is hot off a Golden Boot at the Confederations Cup, mostly thanks to Tahiti. Regardless, it’s going to take Spain reaching the Semifinals in order for a Spanish striker to win the Golden Boot, because Group B is no slouch (Chile, Netherlands, Spain, and the Socceroos of Australia). I dream of a world where Diego Costa scores the game-winner against host nation Brazil in the Finals.
Jackson Martinez (Colombia) – He’s most well known for being an absolute tank on FIFA 14. However, Colombia will be without Falcao.
Jozy Altidore (United States) – That sound you hear is me dodging the tomatoes being thrown in my direction. After going over six months without a goal, Jozy notched two goals against Nigeria in the USA’s final pre-World Cup friendly. All it took was one to get this man in 2013 form, and he got two.
Daniel Sturridge (England) – The key will be if England can survive Group D.
Josep Drmic (Switzerland) – Perhaps the most underrated striker on the most underrated team in the tournament.
Fred (Brazil) – Is there a player on Brazil that can’t score? (Edit: Top-notch dive.)
Mario Balotelli (Italy) – If he can keep his head on straight, Balo should get plenty of scoring opportunities.
Ciro Immobile (Italy) – Leading scorer in Serie A last season.
Neymar. Of all of the players recapped, Neymar plays on the team that I feel has the best chance of winning it all, meaning more playing time for Neymar to reach the magic number. Although pretty much every player on the Brazil squad can score, Neymar will be the focal point of nearly every attack. Messi came in a close-2nd, as Argentina’s vulnerable defense may lead to them getting in some high-scoring games. Regardless, I feel that Messi will be setting up more goals for Aguero, Lavezzi, Higuan, and di Maria rather than scoring them.
*Golden Boot numbers provided by http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/multimedia/photo_gallery/1005/soccer.world.cup.golden.boot.winners/content.2.html
** 2013-14 stats provided by www.squawka.com
***Pre-World Cup friendly stats provided by http://www.soccer24.com/world/friendly-international/teams/
****Editor’s Note – every reference to the ‘Brazilian Ronaldo’ was changed to the ‘real Ronaldo’ – Dan