Ranking the Top 20 South American Strikers of 2013
Now that 2013 has drawn to a close, it's time to select the top 20 South American strikers over the past year.
Some of the biggest names in world football such as Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Neymar all feature at the top end of the list, but there are also a few surprise packages who would not have ranked so highly just 12 months ago.
The criteria are simple. Those eligible for this list must be of South American origin, but can be plying their trade elsewhere. Performances for both club and country are considered. Players who have regularly done the business for their national teams will have an edge over those who haven't.
In the era of false nines and interchangeable front threes, not everyone mentioned here would be considered traditional No. 9-type forwards, but all of them play up front for the most part.
Attacking midfielders and pure wingers were not included in the reckoning.
And yes, we're counting Diego Costa as South American, even if he wants to play for Spain.
Statistics courtesy of soccerway.com.
Those Who Just Missed the Cut
With literally dozens of South American strikers operating in Europe and around the world, and countless more playing in the top leagues back on the continent, selecting just 20 to feature becomes quite a challenge.
Those unfortunate to miss out include stars of the Brazilian league such as Walter and Hernane, and Facundo Ferreyra and Emanuel Gigliotti who shone in the Argentine Primera.
Also missing out: Alan of Salsburg, Elkeson of Guangzhou Evergrande (top scorer in the Chinese Super League), journeyman Pablo Calandria who is currently enjoying career-best form at O'Higgins, Federico Nieto who is also banging in plenty of goals for Deportivo Quito, the Colombians Fredy Montero and Teofilo Gutierrez and Peruvian Raul Ruidiaz.
There are many more South American front-men around doing a sterling job leading the line for their clubs and countries, which is why making the top 20 is such a tough ask.
The veteran Fluminense front man makes the cut not for his club form, which was affected by injuries and a lack of consistency, but for his strong showing for the Brazil national team.
Fred kept himself firmly in the picture for a 2014 World Cup berth by scoring nine goals in Selecao colours and showing that he can provide Neymar with the sort of assistance he needs to best work his magic.
The 30-year-old will be looking to score more for his club team in 2014 in order to secure a golden ticket to the World Cup finals.
Atletico Paranaense attacker Ederson lit up the Brazilian league this season, cracking in 15 goals to finish as Seria A's top scorer.
The bustling forward was effective when poaching in the box or running at defenders from deeper, and he is also willing to pitch in when defensive duties are required.
His inspirational displays helped little Atletico to a commendable third-place finish in the league.
18. Eduardo Vargas
Adaptable forward Eduardo Vargas was not able to find the net during his time at Napoli, but showed what he can do after being loaned to Gremio.
Capable of cutting in from the left or right, or playing centrally, Vargas offers much more than just goals.
The Chilean is now much sought-after in Brazil, and has already agreed personal terms with Santos ahead of a January switch, according to Football Italia.
A brace against Spain in a September friendly proved he remains a formidable force when wearing the red shirt of Chile.
17. Ignacio Scocco
For the first half of the year especially, Ignacio Scocco was in unstoppable form.
He was an integral part of Newell's Old Boys' run to the 2013 Torneo Final title, scoring 11 goals, and he also netted six times as his side made the semi-finals of the Copa Libertadores.
Though right-footed, Scocco was on such a hot streak at one stage that he even drew comparisons to Lionel Messi for his ability to play as a false nine, or use his incredible close control to cut in dangerously from either flank.
Since making the move to Internacional in the Brazilian league, the 28-year-old has failed to reach the same giddy heights, so he will be hoping to return to his best as soon as possible in 2014.
Another Brazilian who has showed his worth in national team colours, Jo is also a strong contender to make Felipe Scolari's World Cup squad.
The Atletico Mineiro striker netted seven times in his team's successful Copa Libertadores campaign and twice for Brazil at the Confederations Cup.
This agile, athletic and slippery forward proved a useful foil for both Ronaldhino at club level, and Neymar for the national team.
15. Adrian Ramos
After scoring a series of vital goals to help Hertha Berlin regain instant promotion back to the Bundesliga last season, lanky Colombian Adrian Ramos' brilliant form continued upon his return to the top flight.
The 27-year-old is hovering near the top of the scorers' charts at the start of the new year with 11 goals to his name and will be hard to ignore when it comes time for Jose Pekerman to name his Colombia squad for the World Cup.
Hertha coach Jos Luhukay had this to say to bundesliga.com about Ramos after he scored in a 3-2 loss to Bayern Munich on Matchday 10:
He’s a fantastic player, a complete striker.
It was another great headed goal he scored early on today.
He’s in really ominous form and is showing how dangerous he is in front of goal.
Perhaps it's because of his name, but Zenit Saint Petersburg's Hulk is often unfairly categorized as a bulldozing target-man, when in fact he is a multi-faceted and highly skilled attacker who can occupy several positions across the front line.
Most commonly found on the wing, the 27-year-old is indeed big and powerful, but he is also in possession of a surprisingly deft touch and stinging left-footed shot.
Having played in all of Brazil's matches at the Confederations Cup, Hulk is a front-runner for a starting spot in the Selecao's World Cup side, especially if he can force a move away from Russia, where he is reportedly dissatisfied.
Andrew Wychrij of goal.com explains that, while Hulk's quality is still evident, various problems have blighted his time at Zenit, and a January transfer could be on the cards:
Certainly, many Russian commentators have been scathing in their assessment of the striker’s arrogance, suggesting he is only interested in personal glory to the detriment of his team.
Or perhaps he is simply attempting to put himself on view for any suitors that might be watching.
Zenit would be foolish to discard Hulk if he wanted to stay. Much of the criticism is borne of frustration at the club’s recent form (now without a win in five in all competitions) and though Hulk has made mistakes, he has equally made decisive contributions.
13. Ezequiel Lavezzi
If he did not happen to play for two teams that are flush with some of the best attacking talent in the world in Argentina and Paris Saint-Germain, it is likely that Ezequiel Lavezzi would enjoy a higher profile.
As it stands, the tattooed speedster is a valuable contributor for both club and country, even if he is not among the very biggest names in either squad.
He is certain to make the trip to Brazil with the Argentina squad if fit and a possible move away from PSG could see him once again become a fan favourite, as he was at former club Napoli.
12. Jackson Martinez
One of a handful of top-class Colombian strikers who should ensure Los Cafeteros are a real threat at Brazil 2014, Jackson Martinez has had an excellent year for his club side, Porto.
The 27-year-old finished 2012/13 with 27 league goals and notched up 12 more in 14 games of the 2013/14 campaign.
Aside from being a lethal finisher, the pacy No. 9 has supreme aerial ability and dazzling feet when dribbling.
11. Rodrigo Palacio
Like a fine Argentine Malbec, Rodrigo Palacio only seems to get better with age.
The zippy forward with the Jedi rat's tail has 10 league goals to his name for Inter this campaign, and is another near-certain inclusion in the Albiceleste squad if he remains injury free.
Just as capable of setting up goals as he is of scoring them, Palacio should prove a useful weapon for Alejandro Sabella's Argentina at the big show in Brazil.
10. Radamel Falcao
He may not have reached the same stunning pinnacles as in 2012 with Atletico Madrid, but Radamel Falcao remains one of the premier strikers in the game.
The Colombian hitman led Atletico to the Copa del Rey title and a third-place finish in La Liga before switching to AS Monaco in May.
The former River Plate star has so far netted nine times for his new club, and he ensured Colombia clinched a World Cup spot with relative ease by scoring nine goals in qualifying.
9. Carlos Tevez
Just when his form appeared to be waning at Manchester City, rambling man Carlos Tevez rambled on to Italian champions Juventus, in what has proven to be an inspired move.
"Carlitos" has looked revitalized since joining Italian football, where he has given Juve that extra world-class sparkle that they needed up front.
In 17 Serie A matches thus far, the man from Fuerte Apache has 11 goals and five assists and, just as importantly, this sometimes prickly character seems content with his club and surroundings.
Juventus fans will be hoping he can shine in the Champions League next season and help elevate the team back into the upper echelon of European football.
8. Gonzalo Higuain
He runs hard for the team; he takes up whichever position the coach asks him to; he helps out in defence; he assists goals; he misses chances and he scores chances.
Football is not an effortless pursuit for Gonzalo Higuain; he actually has to invest more effort than most top-class strikers, but his toil and selflessness make him one of the best around at the moment.
To paint him as a lumbering workhorse would be unfair, however, as he does possess a considerable amount of skill, especially when it comes to reading the game and finding the net.
Since joining Serie A, "Pipita" has nine goals and four assists as well as four goals and two assists in the Champions League.
Napoli look a far weaker side whenever he is missing from their line-up.
Add to that his crucial goals for Argentina in World Cup Qualifying and it is apparent that Higuain has had a bumper year.
7. Alexis Sanchez
Since joining Barcelona from Udinese in July 2011, Alexis Sanchez had only shown glimpses of his dazzling ability without producing it on a regular basis.
In 2013, though, it all started to come together for the Chilean sensation, as he developed into one of the Catalan club's most reliable attacking weapons.
The 25-year-old scored 16 league goals in the calendar year, as well as four goals in Chile's successful World Cup qualifying campaign.
If there's one match he played in that will be remembered for years to come, however, it will be Chile's 2-0 friendly defeat of England at Wembley in November, in which Alexis scored a brilliant brace.
6. Diego Costa
Brazilian-born Diego Costa's stocks have skyrocketed since the start of the 2013/14 season as he emerged as the most lethal striker in La Liga in the early part of the season.
Costa smashed in 19 goals in 17 league appearances to trigger a scrap between the Spanish and Brazilian football federations for his services at international level.
If he continues his goal-scoring exploits he could become a major player at this year's World Cup.
Brazilian wunderkind Neymar already had 12 Paulista goals with Santos to his name in 2013 before making a much-hyped switch to Barcelona.
Since joining the Spanish champions, he has shown a willingness to embrace the team's philosophy of selfless football, despite fears in some quarters that he would want to run the show from the get-go.
Barca coach Gerardo Martino, speaking to Marca, said the youngster would continue to progress at the club, as reported by Myfanwy Garman of goal.com:
He has to settle in Spanish football and get to know the referees.
After the first half of the season he'll have a better view.
It's a matter of learning.
Team-mate Alex Song had words of praise for the Brazilian:
He’s getting better all the time and the goals are naturally coming along.
He’s really happy here and he, like the rest of us is so looking forward to playing together with Messi again.
For the Brazilian national team, meanwhile, Neymar continues to be the go-to man. Much will rest on his shoulders in 2014.
4. Sergio Aguero
In November, Argentina and Manchester City striker Sergio Aguero told La Nacion newspaper that he wanted to become the best player in the world one day.
If he continues along his current trajectory, he has a fair chance of achieving that goal.
Alex Hess of goal.com reports Aguero's comments, when asked if he considers himself a "crack" player:
Let’s see. I don’t know about that, but I do my best to be one of the best players in the world.
My dream is to win the World Cup and then be the best player in the world.
That would remain in history.
Already a hero at City, 2013 saw "Kun" take his game to another level altogether as he began to produce his match-winning exploits on a regular basis.
A total of 28 goals for the Citizens in the calendar year demonstrate how valuable Aguero has been to the club, while he continues to be a key attacker in Alejandro Sabella's Argentina side.
3. Edinson Cavani
There can be few more intimidating prospects for a defender at present than facing a rampant Edinson Cavani.
The giant Uruguayan has all the strings to his bow: pace, power, fine ball skills and a thirst for goals.
He finished the 2012/13 season with a truckload of goals for Napoli, notching 16 league strikes before his move to French club Paris Saint-Germain.
The goals did not dry up in France, either, with Cavani scoring 12 times in the league and four times in the Champions League for his new club.
Add to that his seven goals for Uruguay, who eventually punched their ticket to Brazil 2014, and the lanky-haired front-man sealed his reputation as a truly elite forward.
2. Luis Suarez
Chaos and tumult seem to follow Luis Suarez around everywhere, whether he is causing controversy on and off the field or terrorizing opposition defences with his unbelievable technique.
Arguably the most in-form player in world football at present, the Uruguayan has looked nearly impossible to stop for much of the last 12 months.
The stats back up the hyperbole as well; Suarez's 30 league goals in 2013 have played a large part in Liverpool becoming a major force in the Premier League once more.
For Uruguay, there were two goals in friendlies, three in the Confederations Cup and four in World Cup qualifying.
It's not just the goals that set Suarez apart, however, it's the astonishing skills he regularly displays when scoring or setting up chances for his team-mates that sets him apart.
1. Lionel Messi
Despite an injury-plagued year that may see Lionel Messi miss out on the Ballon d'Or for the first time since 2008, the Argentine wizard's 2013 stats would still be the envy of almost any striker in history.
The 26-year-old made 46 appearances for club and country and managed an amazing 45 goals.
When he's fit, he's the best there is.
When The Guardian newspaper recently named him as their No. 1 footballer in the world for 2013, here's what Daniel Taylor had to say about the decision:
Maybe the best way to put it is that when Lionel Messi is missing, as he has been too frequently over recent months, it can seem that football is missing its principal showman.
He is the player you always want on the ball and, as soon as it arrives, there is always that instantaneous burst of expectation.
Even in a down year by his standards, Messi is on another plane from everyone else.
If he gets back to full fitness in 2014, with a South American World Cup looming, this could be the year that confirms his status as a true legend of the game.