Euro 2012: 10 Contenders for Golden Boot
It's that time in Europe again, when for a month, the entire continent is consumed with the dramatic action of a European Championship, where 16 of Europe's best footballing nations compete to lift the Henri Delaunay Cup.
However, setting national glory aside, one prize that will be on the minds of every striker will be the Golden Boot, the award for the tournament's top scorer.
As David Villa proved with his meager four goals in Austria-Switzerland, this is an award that is very much up for grabs, so without further ado, here are 10 contenders for the Euro 2012 Golden Boot.
Setting aside the German's performance in the Champions League final, where he wasted multiple chances for Bayern, this has been another brilliant season for Mario Gomez.
Few strikers can match up to the German No. 23's 41 goals in 52 appearances. Likely to spearhead the German attack, Gomez will look to extend his Bayern form in Poland and the Ukraine.
However, he will need to redeem himself from that disastrous night in Munich.
One of the most improved players in Europe, this season has seen Benzema fulfill much of the hype that surrounded his transfer from Lyon to Real Madrid. The Frenchman's 32 goals and 15 assists were crucial, as he, along with Ronaldo and Ozil, led Real Madrid to reclaim the La Liga title.
With Benzema continuing to improve, expect him to emulate this in the Euros with Franck Ribery and Samir Nasri in support.
Ronaldo's inclusion needs no explanation. His goal-scoring record this season has been superb, with his 60 goals in 55 Real Madrid matches only second to Lionel Messi's record-breaking 72.
However, Portugal is an entirely different team from Real Madrid, and Ronaldo often struggles to find the support to emulate his club form. While Ronaldo's ability is not in question, the fact that he leads a weaker Portuguese team in the "Group of Death" may end the No. 7's tournament early.
Without Villa, Spain will look to Llorente to finish off their tiki-taka moves. Though Llorente's record in La Liga is impressive, he is still rather unproven on the big stage, and with a revived Fernando Torres, he could find stiff competition from his place in the Spanish team.
But if Llorente does get the nod, expect goals from the No. 19 as Spain go far in the tournament.
If there was an award for the ultimate International scorer, it would undoubtedly go to Miroslav Klose. The Polish-born striker has always seemed to find a way to score in these big tournaments, and he is the second leading scorer in World Cup history, as well as Germany's all-time top scorer.
At 33, Poland-Ukraine will probably be Klose's last international outing for Germany, so he'll be eager to end his International career with a bang—or a couple back flips, if that's still safe for him to do. What better way to end it as well in the country of his birth?
If he gets picked over Gomez, expect goals.
As one of the home nation's best players, Pole Robert Lewandowski has the hopes of the crowd resting on his shoulders. Given an impressive 30-goal season and a relatively easy Group A, Lewandowski should not disappoint his home fans.
Also, at the time of writing, Lewandowski has already scored the tournament's opening goal. Expect more.
The ex-Sevilla striker is on the back a successful season with Zenit St. Petersburg, where he finished as the club's top scorer as well as the second-highest scorer in the country.
Though the lack of match practice may be a factor given the fact that the Russian season is only starting next month, Russia have a relatively easy Euro group and Kerzhakov will look to take advantage of this to net in some goals.
Robin van Persie
'Nuff said. If Van Persie can lead Arsenal and become the Premier League's top scorer, he can definitely do the same with Holland, perhaps even better.
Muller finished as the World Cup's top scorer back in 2010, with the Bayern Munich midfielder one of the centrepieces of Germany's swift blitzkrieg-esque counter-attacking play.
Muller has proved that he can take the pressure, with the 2010 World Cup his rookie international outing, so two years later an improved model of Bayern Munich's No. 25 will play in the Euros.
Balotelli is the wild card in this list. Though his ability and flair are not in question given his impressive season with Man City, he has yet to really prove himself as a consistent scorer. And though Balotelli would initially not be looked as a starter for his national team, given Italy's poor recent form and their inability to score goals, Cesare Prandelli could take a chance on the flamboyant striker.
Balotelli is eager to excel on a higher stage, and if his form with Man City is anything to go by, he should be leading the Italian attack with flying colours.
So who will win it?
While the obvious favourite is Robin van Persie, I personally have a sneaky feeling that Lewandowski or Benzema could knick it. Who knows, maybe even Andy Carroll or Fernando Torres will redeem their dismal Premier League seasons in the Euros. Either way, it'll be an exciting adventure to find out.
Disagree, agree? Comment and let me know.
Cheers, and here's to an excellent tournament.