Much like the tournament itself, the race for the Golden Boot at the 2014 World Cup is wide open. The amount of star power across the national teams likely to make deep runs is immense, which means form will be the award's deciding factor.
The best way way to illustrate exactly how much talent the event will feature is to note a few of the players who didn't make the projected top five scorers below. Some of those big names are Robin van Persie, Wayne Rooney, Luis Suarez and Mario Balotelli, among many others.
Above all else, the high level of talent throughout the World Cup should make for some outstanding highlight-reel goals over the next month. Knowing that, let's check out the top contenders for the honor before projecting the top scorers.
Few players can score 41 goals across all competitions, including eight in Champions League play, and have it be considered a down season. But that was the case for Lionel Messi, who posted his lowest goal total since the 2008-09 campaign when his rise to superstardom with Barcelona began.
Despite that, he was still one of the best players in Europe. That's good news for Argentina, which is going to need its attack to lead the charge to make a deep run. Roy Nemer of Mundo Albiceleste passed along comments from Sergio Aguero, who backs his teammate to have a big tournament:
Sergio Aguero on if Argentina can win the World Cup: "Yes, why not? We have Lionel Messi, the best player in the world on our side."— Roy Nemer (@RoyNemer) May 25, 2014
The Albiceleste's open style of play should benefit Messi's Golden Boot hopes. Alas, the fact Argentina also has Aguero and Gonzalo Higuain will likely lead to a more evenly distributed goal total. It could cause him to fall just short in the race.
Cristiano Ronaldo was on target pretty much all season for Real Madrid. He scored 48 goals in 41 matches across La Liga and Champions League play. His terrific form was highlighted by his record-breaking effort of 17 goals in a single Champions League tournament.
Who will win the 2014 World Cup Golden Boot?
What could hold him back has nothing to do with talent, however. It comes down to the fact he's the undisputed offensive leader for Portugal, which means opponents will build their entire game plan around slowing him down and forcing other members of the Seleccao to beat them.
Although Ronaldo regularly puts on a tremendous individual show, it's hard to do it enough over the course of the World Cup to win the Golden Boot. That's especially true for the Portugal star since everything would need to fall perfectly for his side to make a run to the semifinals.
Neymar's first season with Barcelona wasn't as dynamic as many expected. He scored just 15 goals in 41 matches, a solid but not game-changing total. A lot of that had to do with the fact he wasn't the main target of the attack, though.
Messi remains the go-to player for Barca, which forced Neymar into a supporting role. That will change with Brazil at the World Cup. He will once again be the focal point of the attack. Jason Gay of the Wall Street Journal passed along comments from the forward about the pressure that comes with that:
We suffer pressure in all of the things we do. It's normal in life, but if you're an athlete, this pressure is bigger because you are an example for many people. I suffer pressure since I decided to become a player, but it's a pleasure for me to play a World Cup in my country to my people.
One year ago, the forward scored four goals in the Confederations Cup to help lead Brazil to the championship. He will be looking for a similar effort this summer. Given the talented squad around him, there's a good chance Neymar will deliver.
Golden Boot Projections