World Cup Preview: Breaking Down Best Golden Boot Candidates

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World Cup Preview: Breaking Down Best Golden Boot Candidates
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The favourites to win the Golden Boot at this summer’s World Cup read like a who’s who of world football. With one or two notable exceptions, Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Gareth Bale for example, the best on the planet will be trying to claim the individual award in Brazil this summer.

The benchmark is likely to be six goals for the tournament. The man who claimed the Golden Boot scored six times in six of the last nine World Cups; that figure would also have won the award in 2006 and 2010, when the winners only managed five strikes.

The anomaly in recent years was Brazil's Ronaldo in 2002, who found the back of the net eight times. Any player who can match that should be guaranteed the prize this time around.

Plenty of players score week-in and week-out for their club sides, but few will be able to challenge for the hallowed Golden Boot. Here are a few who will be doing just that this year.

 

Lionel Messi

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Barcelona's Argentinian forward is often said not to produce his best form for his country, but that appears to have changed with the World Cup fast approaching. Messi was central to Argentina’s success in qualifying as he finished with 10 goals, the second-most in the CONMEBOL section of qualifying.

Tim Vickery of ESPN FC described how manager Alejandro Sabella got the best out of his most talented player:

Handing Messi the captaincy was the psychological element of the plan. The tactical aspect was to push the strikers, Gonzalo Higuain and Sergio Aguero, out to the flanks with Messi in the middle behind them. This opened up the pitch, giving Messi acres of space in which to work his magic.

Due to a number of injuries, the 26-year-old has not played as much for Barca as he would in a normal season. Per ESPN FC, ahead of the last World Cup he had played 58 times for club and country. He has currently turned out just 45 times this campaign. Now that he is fully fit, this should work in his favour, as he will enter this tournament far fresher than he did last time out.

Messi also has the advantage over his rivals in that Argentina have a fairly straightforward group. He faces Bosnia-Herzegovina, Iran and Nigeria, opponents that will seriously struggle to deal with the little genius.

 

Cristiano Ronaldo

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Ronaldo’s goal ratio this season has been better than a goal a game. He has managed this feat in La Liga, the Champions League and in international football for Portugal. With Real Madrid outperforming Barcelona this season, he has caught the eye over his old rival Messi this campaign.

With Portugal’s lack of attacking options, the pressure will be on CR7 to deliver the goods in Brazil, something that may not work in his favour. If he has to do it all himself, as he did in the qualifying play-offs against Sweden, then the team is bound to come a cropper eventually.

Portugal are not likely to thrash any of the teams in their group, another point counting against their captain. They won't be favoured against Germany, whilst Ghana and USA are no pushovers. Whilst his talent would be enough to win the Golden Boot, that of his teammates is not great enough to allow it to happen.

Portugal are unlikely to reach the semi-finals, and it would be rare for a Golden Boot winner to fall before that hurdle.

 

Luis Suarez

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Similarly to Ronaldo, Luis Suarez must deal with a tough set of opponents in the group stage, as well as the fact that his team may not be good enough to go all the way in Brazil.

Although favourites to win Group D, the Uruguayans will not have it easy against Italy, England and even underdogs Costa Rica. There are also set to be tough tasks soon after the group stage: Win Group D and you set yourself on course for a quarter-final with Spain; finish second and it could be Brazil in the last eight.

None of that is confirmed, of course, but it seems more than likely, which leaves Suarez struggling to make the semis with Uruguay and therefore struggling to win the Golden Boot.

 

Neymar

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If club form is anything to go by, the Brazilian has little chance of claiming the Golden Boot this summer. Neymar has managed just nine goals in La Liga since joining Barcelona from Santos in the summer, a fairly poor return given the hype surrounding his move.

However, the 22-year-old has become a consistent performer for his national team and will be the focal point of the home side’s attack. He has 30 goals in 47 caps for Brazil and showed what he can do against the world’s best when he scored four times en route to winning the Confederations Cup last year.

There will be plenty of pressure on Brazil to attack, attack, attack throughout the tournament, so the youngster will get plenty of chances, especially against the likes of Cameroon and Mexico in Group A.

Brazil will go a long way in this tournament, and Neymar will most likely be their star man, so he has every chance of taking home the Golden Boot.

 

Diego Costa

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Considering Diego Costa has never scored an international goal, it seems odd to see him as a contender for the Golden Boot. However, his form for Atletico Madrid all season means that he certainly is capable of outscoring the world’s best in Brazil.

The naturalised Brazilian has scored 36 times for Atletico this campaign across all competitions. Now representing Spain, there is little reason to suggest that he will not be just as prolific in red and blue.

Costa has played just once for Spain, so he will have to adapt to their style of play in the coming friendlies against Bolivia and El Salvador. If he clicks with his new teammates, then he could prove to be devastating in the country of his birth this summer.

 

Thomas Mueller

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Mueller is not someone getting much attention ahead of the World Cup, but then again neither was he before the last edition of the tournament, and he claimed the Golden Boot in South Africa.

He is not like the others mentioned in that he will not break any goalscoring records, nor will he enter any discussions as to who is the best player on the planet. However, he pops up with big goals at crucial times, as he did four years ago.

Mueller has also enjoyed his best-ever season in terms of goals for Bayern Munich, averaging better than one in every two matches across all competitions. He is an outsider for the Golden Boot, but only the stupid or the brave write off the Germans in the World Cup.

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