While winning the World Cup may be every soccer player’s dream, being awarded the tournament’s Golden Boot has got to be a close second.
Given to the player who scores the most goals during the World Cup, the Golden Boot is highly coveted. However, winning it doesn't necessarily translate to success in the overall tournament.
In fact, only one of the previous seven winners was on the World Cup-winning team.
Still, it’s hard to argue that winning the Golden Boot wouldn't be a nice consolation price. You’d be hard-pressed to find a player who wasn't thrilled in winning the honor.
Here are some of the top contenders for this year’s award.
The Dark Horse: Fernando Torres (Spain)
Ever since making the move to Chelsea in 2011, Fernando Torres has been considered washed up and dubbed soccer’s most expensive dud.
But although he has struggled for the Blues in the Premier League—just 19 goals in 100 league appearances—the 29-year-old has found some sort of form when playing outside of England. He has netted 14 goals in 28 games in both the Champions League and Europa League while finding the back of the net nine times in 16 international appearances with Spain since 2012.
To make matters worse for the opposition, Torres seems to be making strides towards rediscovering his scoring ways in the Premier League:
|Torres' Minutes Per Goal at Chelsea|
Furthermore, it’s not like Torres is a stranger to winning Golden Boots. He actually took home the award during 2012’s Euros (three goals) and also during last year’s Confederation Cup (five goals).
Like him or not, it’s hard to argue against the fact that Torres is one of the world’s deadliest strikers when he is on form.
In the Hunt: Mario Balotelli (Italy)
Mario Balotelli may be controversial, but he certainly makes up for it with his skill on the pitch.
Ever since making the move to Serie A’s A.C. Milan last year, the 23-year-old has caught fire. He has scored 22 goals in 31 appearances for the club, including finding the back of the net five times in the last six games.
But Balotelli might be even better for his country, netting 13 goals in 20 appearances for Italy. A player who thrives under pressure, seven of those goals came during seven World Cup qualifiers.
With Balotelli getting hot at the right time and playing for one of the world’s top national teams, scoring goals in bunches should be expected this summer.
The Front-Runner: Neymar (Brazil)
Neymar has quickly become one of soccer’s biggest stars.
With dazzling footwork and a nose for the goal, the 22-year-old can be seen on highlight reels from around the globe. The fact that he plays for one of the game’s most recognized clubs (Barcelona) only strengthens his reach.
Brazil manager Luiz Felipe Scolari told The Guardian (h/t Goal.com) that Neymar is "now at the same level of Cristiano (Ronaldo) and (Leo) Messi."
If you ask Scolari, he'll tell you that he's just as good as any other player.
But don't be mistaken—Neymar certainly lives up to the hype.
Thus far, the Sao Paulo, Brazil, native has netted seven goals in 17 La Liga appearances for Barca. He’s also added eight strikes in 18 international appearances for Brazil.
That includes a scintillating stretch last summer when Neymar found the back of the net four times in five games during Brazil’s run to the Confederation Cup title—he was named the tournament’s Golden Ball for his efforts.
Given that Neymar and his teammates will once again be playing in front of hometown fans in Brazil during this summer’s tournament, the Green and Yellow will be favorites to win their sixth World Cup.
More games can only mean more opportunities for Neymar to score goals.
Unless otherwise noted, all stats are courtesy of ESPN.