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Sharpshooters: The strikers aiming for Golden Boot glory at the World Cup

2 Jun, 2018 09:01
Sharpshooters: The strikers aiming for Golden Boot glory at the World Cup
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This summer’s World Cup in Russia will gather football’s best attacking talent, all of whom will be aiming to provide the goals that fire their teams to glory. RT Sport looks at 10 candidates for the coveted Golden Boot award.

LIONEL MESSI (ARGENTINA)

Whatever happens in Russia, Messi’s place as one of the all-time greats is secure. But there is the nagging feeling – including is his homeland – that adding a World Cup to his already heavily-laden trophy cabinet would cement his place as the greatest ever to play the game.   

The diminutive magician’s goalscoring exploits season after season have seen him compare only to Cristiano Ronaldo in the modern game – and the numbers are simply staggering.

The five-time world player of the year has a record of 552 goals in 637 games for club team Barcelona in a career in which he has won everything with the Catalan giants.  

He has also netted 64 times in 124 appearances for the white and light blue of La Albiceleste, although the Argentina public are less in thrall to him than his exploits would perhaps deserve, and he is seen as not always providing best form for the national team.

The 30-year-old even retired following Copa America penalty shootout heartache in 2016, but was persuade to return and single-handedly rescued the team’s World Cup qualifying campaign by scoring a hat-trick against Ecuador in the final group game with the Argentinians on the brink of missing the cut.

His World Cup stats are more modest than his club scoring rate, with five goals in a total 15 appearances, spread over three tournaments – although he managed four goals last time out at Brazil 2014 in Argentina’s run to the final.

Coach Jorge Sampaoli has unequivocally said that this is Messi’s Argentina team – to the extent that the striker reportedly dictated that Mauro Icardi was shunned from the squad despite his free-scoring form for Inter Milan.

Argentina have an embarrassment of riches upfront including Sergio Aguero, Gonzalo Higuain and Paulo Dybala, but these are largely the supporting cast to main man Messi.  

The team are among the favorites to triumph and a run to the title in Russia would surely mean plenty of goals from Messi, who will be in the running for team and individual honors.    

CRISTIANO RONALDO (PORTUGAL)

As with his great rival Messi, the Portugal striker has largely disappointed at previous World Cups, and has managed just three goals in 13 appearances – one in each of his three tournaments.  

That pales into comparison with his goals per game ration at club level, where he has racked up 450 goals in 438 games for Madrid, to add to the 118 he scored in the red of Manchester United.

Outside of the World Cup, he has prolific for the national team, with 81 goals in 149 games, making the Real Madrid hitman his country’s top scorer – and leaving him just behind Hungarian legend Ferenc Puskas’ European record of 84. 

The Portuguese star is entering the twilight of his career, and although his goalscoring prowess shows little sign of waning, Russia 2018 could be his last chance to make a real impact on the biggest stage of all.

The 33-year-old Portuguese has refined his attacking approach in recent years to strike from in and around the box, rather than making the marauding runs for which he was previously known.

If anything that has made him even more dangerous, and while he suffered a dip in form at the start of the season he finished it strongly, including ending as the Champions League top scorer with 15 goals in Real Madrid’s run to a third successive title.

Portugal are in a group with Iberian rivals Spain, meaning chances could be few and far between in that game, although Iran and Morocco should prove easier nuts to crack before Portugal have to negotiate the knockout stages.  

ROBERT LEWANDOWSKI (POLAND)

Of all the strikers potentially in the hunt for the Golden Boot in Russia, Lewandowski is perhaps the deadliest as a classic box-zone predator.

The 29-year-old Pole has enjoyed a bountiful four seasons at Bayern Munich since moving from rivals Borussia Dortmund, and has found the net 151 times in 195 games for the German giants. He finished as the Bundesliga top scorer for the 2017-18 season on 29 goals, meaning he has momentum going into the World Cup.

He is no less deadly for Poland, and is the nation’s all-time top scorer with 52 goals in 93 appearances. Sixteen of those goals came in a blistering qualifying campaign for Russia 2018, with his haul a record for a single European World Cup qualifying phase.

Poland line up in a group with Senegal, Colombia and Japan in Russia, meaning goalscoring opportunities should present themselves on plenty of occasions at the group stage.

Lewandowski is perhaps surprisingly seen as a 33/1 outsider with many bookies for the Golden Boot, with Poland’s limited chances of a longer run viewed as harming his chances.   

There are rumors of a big-money move away from Munich this summer, with the player said to be keen on Real Madrid. A big World Cup would go a long way to making that happen.

NEYMAR (BRAZIL)

Neymar heads into the World Cup on the back of a three-month injury layoff after breaking his foot, meaning questions linger over his fitness levels this summer.

However, should the Brazilian be fit and firing on all cylinders, he will surely be gunning for the Golden Boot as the Samba Boys go in search of their sixth World Cup.

The Brazilian had been in fine goalscoring form prior to his injury-enforced break, netting 28 times in 30 games for club team PSG following his world record transfer from Barcelona.

He has 53 goals in 83 games in the canary yellow of Brazil, and will again be seen as the nation’s talisman heading into the World Cup.

The 26-year-old is a player who has it all – pace, flair, sublime skills and an unerring eye for goal – and support from a very able Brazilian team including the likes of youngster Gabriel Jesus will aid his scoring chances in Russia.

Brazil are among the favorites in Russia, and face a group containing Switzerland, Costa Rica and Serbia – so expect Neymar to have some goalscoring momentum heading into the knockout stages.

ANTOINE GRIEZMANN (FRANCE)

The versatile Griezmann is not seen as an out and out forward in the mould of others on this list, although he will be his team’s leading threat in France – much as he was at Euro 2016, when he claimed the Golden Boot.

The Atletico Madrid striker often likes to drop deep to collect the ball and is very much a team player, but is deadly when in and around the box.

He has scored 112 goals in 209 games for the Madrid club, while he has netted 19 times in 52 games for Les Tricolores. 

Griezmann is rightly among the favorites for the Golden Boot in Russia, not least because the talented French team will provide plenty of goalscoring opportunities and should enjoy a run that could end with the title.

The French open their World Cup campaign against Australia, before taking on Peru and Denmark. They should then progress to the knockout stages.

ROMELU LUKAKU (BELGIUM)

Belgian sensation Lukaku is already his country’s top scorer at the age of just 25 years old, and has 33 goals in 66 games for the Red Devils.

He bagged 11 in European qualifying as Belgium booked their spot in Russia, and will be looking to add to the solitary World Cup goal he has to his name, scored four years ago in Brazil.

Lukaku joined Manchester United last summer and enjoyed an solid first season for the English giants, scoring 16 goals in the Premier League and 27 in total.

He will spearhead Belgium’s attack in Russia this summer and will have the creative talents of Eden Hazard and the majestic Kevin De Bruyne to provide assists, as part of the nation’s ‘Golden Generation’ of talent.

The group draw has been relatively kind to Roberto Martinez’s men, with Panama and Tunisia likely to yield chances before the sterner test of England – and beyond that the knockout stages.  

Belgium have not been touted as potential winners as frequently as Germany, Brazil, Spain, France or Argentina, but they are expected to enjoy a good run in Russia, meaning Lukaku will have a decent number of games to rack up the goals. 

THOMAS MULLER (GERMANY)

Muller makes the list of Golden Boot contenders by virtue of his outstanding record in previous World Cups, with the Bayern Munich man always seeming to save his best goalscoring form for the big occasion.

He has hit five goals in each of the last two World Cups, and heads into Russia 2018 with compatriot Miroslav Klose’s all-time record of 16 goals within his sights.

Muller, 28, has enjoyed a mixed season for Bayern in which he struggled for form in parts, although he still managed a creditable 15 goals in 45 games.

The forward has 38 goals in 98 games for Die Mannschaft, and while he lacks the explosive brilliance of Messi and Ronaldo, or the more aesthetically pleasing approach of Lewandowski, the wiry German has the guile and craft that means he is capable of topping the scoring charts in Russia.

Germany are among the favorites for the title and seem set for a long stay in Russia, all adding to Muller’s chances of grabbing the Golden Boot.

HARRY KANE (ENGLAND)

Prolific Tottenham Hotspur striker Kane was Europe’s top scorer in 2017 on 56 goals in 52 games, putting him ahead of every other forward on this list including the illustrious trio of Messi, Ronaldo and Lewandowski.   

Kane is more than just a classic no-nonsense English center forward, and has a more rounded aspect to his game which includes intelligent link-up play and an eye for a defence-splitting pass.  

The striker, 24, has racked up some incredible goal-scoring stats in his career so far, including winning the Premier League Golden Boot two seasons running for 2015/2016 and 2016/2017.

He missed out on the accolade in the 2017/2018 season thanks to the goalscoring exploits of Liverpool’s Mohamed Salah, but still hit the back of the net 30 times in the league.

Kane’s overall stats mark him out for greatness in the English game, with 108 goals in 150 Premier League games, and 122 goals in 206 professional club games in total. For the Three Lions he has 12 goals in 23 games.

Kane’s insatiable desire for goals has seen him mocked – such as with his successful attempts to claim a disputed goal against Stoke – but means he is driven like no other player in the England team.

His downfall in Russia could be a lack of support from an England midfield that looks bereft of play-making ability, but Kane would benefit from having Tottenham teammate Dele Alli in the team as the pair are capable of linking up to devastating effect.  

Kane suffered an injury that saw his form dip toward the end of the season, but the warm-up games before Russia will help him find his rhythm.

He has also been handed the captain’s armband for Russia which will add extra motivation for him to lead from the front in the group games against Tunisia, Panama and Belgium – and possibly beyond.  

MOHAMED SALAH (EGYPT)

Liverpool forward Salah makes the list of Golden Boot contenders despite continued concerns over whether he will be fit for the World Cup, following the shoulder injury he sustained in a Champions League final tussle with Real Madrid defender Sergio Ramos.

Salah says he is “confident” of making the World Cup, while the Egyptian FA chief says he will play at least some part in Russia.

Despite the concerns, goalscoring form makes Salah impossible to overlook, with the 25-year-old Egyptian speedster enjoying a record-breaking Premier League campaign in which he scored 32 goals in 36 games.

The Egyptian King also has 33 goals in 57 games for the Pharaohs, and scored the all-important penalty against Congo that booked the team’s place at the World Cup finals for the first time in 28 years. 

At Liverpool he is backed up by fellow forwards Roberto Firminho and Sadio Mane, forming part of one of the most feared attacking tridents in world football, and Egypt’s chances of limited progression in Russia will of course be a blow to his chances of topping the goalscoring charts.

But if Salah is fit, the group games against Russia and Saudi Arabia, in particular, will offer chances to plunder goals.

EDISON CAVANI (URUGUAY)

Cavani is another outside bet for the coveted Golden Boot this summer, with most bookies putting him at odds of 20/1. But that is more of a reflection on his team’s chances of putting a run together than the tall striker’s goalscoring ability.

The powerful Paris Saint-Germain forward has scored 170 goals in 245 appearances for his club, and has 42 in 100 games for Uruguay.

The latter stat is eight fewer than compatriot Luis Suarez, who will start up front with Cavani in Russia, but the 31-year-old PSG man makes our list by virtue of better goalscoring form heading into the tournament, having scored 40 times in 47 games for the Paris club this season. 

Uruguay are strongly fancied to top a World Cup group containing hosts Russia, Egypt and Saudi Arabia, meaning chances should be in large supply before the tougher knockout stages begin.     

OTHER CONTENDERS

Numerous others will be gunning for the Golden Boot in Russia, with Argentina's Sergio Aguero among the potential contenders, as well as Brazilian youngster Gabriel Jesus. Luis Suarez could also feature for Uruguay, while German youngster Timo Werner is seen by many as a favorite to be among the goals in Russia. Colombia's James Rodriguez could repeat his Golden Boot-winning feat of four years ago, while compatriot Radamel Falcao could also be in the running. Gonzalo Higuain is also an outside bet. Spain's Diego Costa is also fancied, as is French teenager Kylian Mbappe.