The World Cup kicks off in less than two months, at which point the eyes of the world will be on the action in Brazil. Right now there are a handful of heavy favourites to hoist the trophy-Brazil, Argentina, Germany, and the defending champions Spain-followed by a large pack of major underdogs of varying intrigue. While it seems inevitable that one of those favoured teams will win the tournament (since 1970 only those four countries, France, and Italy have won the competition), less certain is the identity of the Golden Boot winner.
There are a number of key factors when considering Golden Boot hopefuls, primarily the quality of their group opponents and the overall quality of their side. Talented players facing weak competition early can build an early lead in the race to be the top scorer, as multi-goal performances are more likely against lesser talent. Being on a quality side that advances far in the competition gives goal scorers more games and, obviously, more opportunities to put the ball in the net. By and large past Golden Boot winners have come from teams that advance to the later stages. In fact, since the start of the 1990 World Cup only one Golden Boot winner has come from a team that didn’t make the semis. That was Russian Oleg Salenko in the 1994 tournament, who’s team failed to advance even out of the group stage, and as gambling.com points out in their article on Golden Boot betting strategy, his performance in that competition serves to underline the importance of capitalizing on weak group stage opponents.
With those two guiding ideas in mind, here is a look at the five men most likely to win the Boot in Brazil:
5. Cristiano Ronaldo – The reigning Ballon d’Or winner faces tough group competition, playing Germany, Ghana, and the United States, which may keep his goal tally down. Still, the Portuguese star is scoring at an incredible clip, netting 12 goals in his last 10 international appearances to become the country’s all-time leading goal scorer. If Portugal is to advance deep into the tournament it will be because of Ronaldo’s goal-scoring prowess.
4. Diego Costa – It seems odd to have a player with just three international caps and no goals to his name this high, but if any player is going to take the tournament by storm it will be Costa. Having been granted Spanish citizenship in 2013, the Atletico striker will be playing in the country of his birth for the defending world champions. Costa has been lethal in La Liga this year, scoring 27 goals in 32 matches, and La Furia Roja know how to advance in major competitions as their victories at the last World Cup and the last two Euro competitions have proven. Expect Costa to get many of the opportunities previously taken by Fernando Torres and David Villa, and expect him to capitalize on many of them.
3. Luis Suarez -Hopes for the success of South American teams in this competition are sky high, as no team from another continent has ever won a World Cup on South American soil. While Uruguay is not on the level of squads like Brazil and Argentina, they did finish fourth at the 2010 World Cup, thanks in large part to the efforts of Suarez’s feet (and infamously against Ghana his hands). Suarez is in top form this year on the club level as well, as he recently became just the seventh player to notch 30 goals in a Premier League season, and with three matches left he will have a chance at topping the all-time Premiership record of 31. He is a dangerous scorer on top of his game on his home continent, which could lead to goals in bunches.
2. Neymar – The Brazilian star was injured in the Copa del rey final against Real Madrid but insists he will be in form come World Cup time. The 22-year-old is set to be the focal point of the host nation’s pursuit of another world title, and has proven his ability to perform at a high level in international play as evidenced by his winning of the Golden Ball award at the 2013 Confederations Cup. With 30 goals in 47 national team appearances his goal-scoring ability is top notch, and should be on display in his home country barring an injury setback.
1. Lionel Messi – Could there be anyone else at number one? Messi has been the best player on the planet for years now, with only lackluster international performances hampering his case for the greatest player ever. After losing in the 2010 quarter-final to Germany, Messi will be looking to lead his Argentine squad farther than that on their home continent. With talented players such as Gonzalo Higuain and Sergio Aguero playing up front with him, opponents won’t be able to single out Messi, which should allow him a number of goal-scoring opportunities. Group stage opponents Bosnia and Herzegovina, Iran, and Nigeria should provide little in the way of competition for the sixth-ranked team in the world, and Messi may have a sizable lead in the Golden Boot race by the time the knockout stage begins.
This list is obviously not definitive, and a surprise performance like Thomas Muller’s in 2010 is always a possibility to swipe the Boot. No matter who does lead the tournament in goals, it will be a race to watch as the number of incredible scoring talents in the competition is breathtaking, and should provide another layer of intrigue as the World Cup rolls along.
The 2014 World Cup kicks off June 12 when Brazil faces Croatia.