The 2014 World Cup is crammed with a plethora of natural goalscorers who should challenge for the tournament's Golden Boot award.
Individuals such as Neymar, Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo are considered front runners for the top scorers award, but there's a host of names quietly waiting to burst ahead of the revered trio. Players who, if they perform admirably, have a real chance of thrusting their team to success at the upcoming competition.
Which stars should be considered dark horses for the Golden Boot? Let's take a look.
Dark Horses for Golden Boot Award
Daniel Sturridge, England
It's never a good idea to bet on English success at major tournaments, at least not beyond the quarter-final stage, but Roy Hodgson's men go into this year's meet with a realistic sense of expectation and an in-form striker who doesn't possess the name "Wayne Rooney."
Daniel Sturridge has catapulted Liverpool to the brink of Premier League glory and is the most natural goalscorer the Three Lions will take to Brazil. He has 20 goals in 22 appearances for Brendan Rodgers' team, per WhoScored.com, in a coming of age year.
Impressively, his worst run of games without netting stands at three this campaign, suggesting he is likely to aid England's efforts against Italy, Uruguay and Costa Rica.
Sturridge recently scored a late winner during the nation's 1-0 win over Denmark, where it became apparent Hodgson must play him through the centre. Isolated for much of the opening half on the wing, England's attack offered a far greater threat with Sturridge moving through the middle.
He is the slickest, most consistent threat the country has, but can he perform on the big stage? Let's hope that crucial penalty miss for Team GB at the 2012 London Olympics doesn't weigh on his mind.
Karim Benzema, France
The French have become as useless as England in major tournaments of late—perhaps even worse—but Didier Deschamp's men are heading in the right direction. With players such as Franck Ribery and Paul Pogba hitting their stride, Les Bleus are beginning to play the kind of exciting, offensive football that led them to glory in 1998.
Karim Benzema will shoulder plenty of responsibility heading into Brazil. The Real Madrid forward is currently enjoying his best season at the Bernabeu—perhaps due to the presence of Ronaldo and Gareth Bale—form he is starting to replicate during international competition.
Benzema recently went 1,022 minutes without a goal for France, reported by ESPN FC, but he helped confirm the country's appearance at the World Cup with a vital strike in the qualification play-off second-leg against Ukraine.
He also scored a wonderful goal against the Netherlands, a recent win that highlights France as an emerging power. Benzema has 17 goals in La Liga this season, four in the Champions League, and he is hitting his stride at the right time, per WhoScored.com.
Honduras, Ecuador and Switzerland are all beatable opponents. If France are destined to advance deep into the knockout rounds, Benzema will provide the spearhead to an energetic, tricky and powerful attack.
Klaas-Jan Huntelaar, Netherlands
Much of the Dutch interest will be focused on Robin van Persie and Arjen Robben, two decent shouts for the Golden Boot if you're favouring an Oranje triumph in Brazil. Thinking outside the box, it's Klaas-Jan Huntelaar who will be the man to pick up any slack.
Huntelaar has just one World Cup goal to his name, per FIFA.com, but he improved massively at Schalke this season. The 30-year-old has 12 successful strikes in 15 games across the Bundesliga and Champions League, reported by WhoScored.com, with seven coming in his last six games.
Raphael Honigstein described the player's impact during his column for The Guardian on March 17:
The 30-year-old striker hasn't just made all the difference since coming back from his knee injury after the winter break—he has been the difference.
[...] His incredible dependability contrasts pleasingly with the haphazard performance levels of his team-mates and Schalke's capriciousness as a whole.
With van Persie's waning form and injury troubles at Manchester United, Huntelaar should be expected to take on a role of great importance during the World Cup.
He is a powerful, physically adept frontman who is more than capable of holding the ball up before spraying it wide to his speedy team-mates. A simple run into the box will grant him plenty of chances to score in a tough group with Spain, Chile and Australia.
There are our choices, but do you agree? Be sure to let us know your dark horses for the 2014 World Cup's goalscoring prize in the comments section below.
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