World Cup 2014: 6 Early Candidates to Finish Top Scorer in Brazil
The 2014 World Cup in Brazil is now just 18 months away, with the biggest festival in football ready to roll up in South America and with 32 nations competing for the main prize.
While the World Cup trophy will be the biggest prize on offer, there will also be great individual glory on offer in the form of the Golden Ball, awarded to the best player of the tournament, and the Golden Boot, which rewards the top goal scorer at the event.
The roll of honour for the Golden Boot is an esteemed cast, right from early winners Guillermo Stábile, Garrincha and Eusebio to more recent victors Ronaldo, Miroslav Klose and Thomas Müller.
So, which players are early candidates to join the great names of the past?
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There is only one place to start, really. After 12 goals in nine international games this calendar year, Lionel Messi finally looks to have transferred his club goal-scoring record onto the international stage.
With the World Cup to be held in neighbouring Brazil, Argentina should be able to rely upon a good travelling support for their matches and, although some of the locals may look to support whomever they are opposing, the players will have a greater knowledge of the conditions than most.
That should all help Messi in his quest. After all, it is difficult to challenge for individual honours if your team is suffering.
Now captain of his country and able to call upon a much more balanced supporting cast than in previous years, Messi needs to step up to the plate if Argentina are to challenge.
Argentina last won the World Cup in Mexico back in 1986, inspired by the best player of his generation in Diego Maradona.
Messi's greatness, though, is still doubted by those who say he has never shined at a World Cup. He will now have a chance to silence those critics in Brazil and, at 27, should be at the peak of his powers.
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Borussia Dortmund attacking midfielder Marco Reus has taken his place in Joachim Low's first-choice Germany side since the summer, lining up on the left of a supporting trio behind striker Miroslav Klose.
While Klose, who will be 36 at the time of the 2014 tournament, is perhaps a doubt to participate, Reus, at just 23, seems an almost certain inclusion.
A dynamic presence, Reus offers a considerable goal threat from deep and, although currently being outscored by Real Madrid's Mezut Ozil in qualification, still has three goals to his name from the four matches to date.
By the time the tournament comes around, the emerging star of this current Germany side should also be able to call upon greater depth of experience as he now challenges for titles both home and abroad with Dortmund.
Amongst the top scorers in the Bundesliga for Borussia Monchengladbach last season with 18 goals, Reus could be a real candidate for the Golden Boot if Germany challenge for the title as expected.
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There really is little one can say about Radamel Falcao that has not already been discussed over the last 12 months. His prolific goal scoring in every competition he has played in since moving to Europe has made him one of the most discussed and admired players in the world game.
The biggest factor counting against him challenging for the Golden Boot in 2014 is that Colombia are not widely expected to reach the later stages of the competition.
That said, Jose Pekerman's side have been excellent in 2012 and are one of the most exciting, rising sides in world football at present.
Similarly to Messi, Falcao will also benefit from his side's familiarity with Brazilian conditions, whilst Colombia will undoubtedly attract a large travelling support. Whether the side can adapt to the pressure of being a favoured side, if their form continues, is another question.
With Macnelly Torres and James Rodriguez supplying the ammunition, he will undoubtedly be presented with chances, and with six goals scored in his last eight international games, Falcao is a good outside bet as the top scorer.
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Along with Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo has dominated European scoring charts for some time now and, judging by the start to this season, that trend only looks set to continue over the coming 18 months.
Portugal may have been slightly disappointing at Euro 2012, but Ronaldo still ended the tournament with three goals to his name in the process.
The powerful forward produced a brilliant individual display to score twice and down Netherlands, followed by an equally important goal against the Czech Republic.
His side would eventually bow out on penalties to Spain, but should Portugal make it through qualifying, few would bet against the forward adding to his remarkable goal tally.
Ronaldo has scored 37 times for his country and, at times, dragged them through games with a moment of inspiration. If Portugal can build a team that is hard to beat, Ronaldo's goals will make them a serious threat.
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There is no dispute over which player will be the sponsors' face of World Cup 2014, with Brazilian prodigy Neymar already racking up a sizeable income well ahead of the tournament's commencement.
Just 20 and with 17 goals in 27 international games to his name, the Santos forward has a far better goals ratio than either Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo at this level—although aided by some fairly poor opponents over the past year.
Neymar will also be aware that his performance at the 2011 Copa America was far from his usual high standards.
This time around, though, the eye-catching talent will have a vocal home crowd behind him and, the country will no doubt hope, a better balanced team than Brazil have presented in recent years.
The talent is there and, by 2014, he will have experienced both the Confederations Cup and several friendly encounters with top European sides. If he can adapt to the lessened space these teams will afford, he could very well set the tournament alight.
Robin van Persie
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The Dutch striker has made a flying start to his Manchester United career this season and once more leads the Premier League goal-scoring charts, having been the first player to double figures this campaign.
Van Persie survived the transition to Louis van Gaal's reign as manager of the Netherlands national team and has led the line as part of a front three in qualification thus far—scoring twice in three matches.
The Dutch are flying in their group and, providing van Persie continues on his injury-free run, there is no reason why he shouldn't be the focal point for a Dutch challenge in 2014. With a fresh batch of talented youngsters added to the established stars, what a challenge it could be.
That said, with Klaas-Jan Huntelaar ready to step in at any moment, the Red Devils star will have to keep up his fine form to guarantee his place.
With van Persie's scoring record for both club and country in mind, though, there is no reason he could not challenge for the Golden Boot whilst still in his peak years at the age of 30—especially if the likes of Arjen Robben and Wesley Sneijder can perform in what is likely to also be their final shot at World Cup glory.