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Countdown to World Cup 2022: 21 days till the big kick-off

The Golden Boot is arguably the most prestigious of all the individual World Cup awards, despite the Golden Ball being given to the player judged to be the best performer, there just tends to be a tinge more attention and glamour surrounding the tournament’s top goalscorer. In today’s countdown series we look at the main contenders for the award.

The highest scorer at a World Cup was Just Fontaine back in 1958, when he netted an incredible 13 times for France. The most recent winner was England’s Harry Kane in Russia in 2018, when he scored, what has almost become a par for the course amount (with eight of the last 11 doing so), 6 times.

Harry Kane

The Tottenham and England captain is the bookies’ favourite to repeat his 2018 achievement and understandably so. Kane’s consistency is virtually unparalleled for club and country. England has a relatively straightforward group, which tends to go a long way to deciding the ultimate Golden Boot winner.

Kane’s league form suggests he will hit the ground running in Qatar. The question is whether he will get the service, something which has been seriously lacking over the last year or so for England. If Kane does not deliver it will likely be because he is not giving the chances, but rather any deficiency of his own.

With England’s pacy players and Raheem Sterling’s tendency to conveniently collapse in the penalty area, penalties are often a good route for Kane to boost his tally. He has proved himself to be one of the reliable elite-level spot kicker takers.

Kylian Mbappe

There is no questioning the PSG and France attacker’s talent and ability to wrack up the goals. The biggest question will be over the French team. Alongside Brazil, they have the most complete squad but it also has the most potential for combustibility, an attribute which Mbappe has displayed this season at club level.

Mbappe is probably the paciest forward at the World Cup and his ability to beat a man and create a chance for himself could prove telling in tight matches against defensive sides.

If the world champions can get off to a good start and unity is strong, expect Mbappe to play a leading role and to get his name on the scoresheet against lesser teams such as Tunisia and Australia.

Mbappe has never been a remarkably prolific scorer in comparison to other elite forwards and it is more all round game which is impressive. However, six in five in the Champions League and 11 in 12 in Ligue 1 suggests he might be bucking that trend.

Lionel Messi

It would be remiss not to mention the world’s greatest player, particularly given his upturn in form for PSG this season, scoring 11 in 16. Aside from Cristiano Ronaldo, no one comes close to Messi in terms of goal-scoring at the highest level and for that reason alone he is with a shout.

But perhaps the strongest case for him being a serious contender for the Golden Boot is Argentina’s outstanding form. They are currently on a 35 match unbeaten run, which leaves them in good stead to reach the latter stages and present with more matches to rack up goals.

However, playing now in the twilight of his career Messi has become more of a provider than a scorer, creating a phenomenal amount of chances for his teammates. That is likely to be more the role he occupies for Argentina.

Karim Benzema

Benzema has unquestionably been the world‘s top performing player over the last 12 months, scooping the La Liga title in Spain and top scorer trophies, plus the Champions League and bagging 15 goals making him the top scorer there too.

He has shown little sign of slowing up this season either. However, he has never shown the same level of proficiency for the national team. Firstly, he is not the main man with France and not everything revolves around him like it does at Real Madrid.

Secondly, he has only recently returned to the fold, having last featured for Les Bleus back in 2016. Off the field scandals saw Benzema sidelined but a surprise return early last year gave the French a boost, having long lacked a lethal number nine.

If coach Didier Deschamps can find the right formula to make France a truly attacking threat then Benzema stands a great chance of ending the tournament as the top goalscorer and the team as winners. An achievement which would all but complete his career, in claiming every major title available at club and international level. That is surely a motivating factor for a man who seems already driven to achieve greatness in the latter stages of his career.

Neymar

Brazil’s captain did not appear to be a good bet for tournament top scorer in the summer when he appeared to be being pushed out of PSG. Furthermore, his form had been rather underwhelming, particularly by his own standards.

Neymar, aside from Lionel Messi, is possibly the most naturally gifted player at this winter’s tournament. Fans are finally beginning to see that borne out in the raw numbers at club level, with goals and 10 assists in all competitions for the French champions.

Neymar plays for the most fancied team at the World Cup, a team in good form, looking they have struck the right balance between defence and attack, providing him with the platform to show his best.

Although his performances for PSG have been questionable over the years he tends to deliver for Brazil, with 75 goals in 121 matches. Despite being one of the top-seeded teams, Brazil does not have a particularly easy group, which might count against Neymar if he is able to rack up a sufficient number to eclipse his aforementioned rivals.

Best of the rest

Any conversation about goal-scoring feats has to include Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo but his individualism and lack of appearances for Manchester United this season might count against him.

Lautaro Martinez has been in the form of his life for Inter Milan this season, taking on the goal-scoring mantle from the oft-injured Romelu Lukaku. Argentina’s form and favourable draw also make him a good outside best for the crown.

Poland’s Robert Lewandowski is arguably the most lethal of all the finishers listed and he has proved himself once again for his new club Barcelona this season. However, Poland’s lack of creativity is likely to be a stumbling block for him scoring heavily.

Romelu Lukaku has 68 goals in 102 appearances for Belgium and as long as he fully recovers from injury is likely to be in contention for the Golden Boot. Lukaku has barely played for Inter this season after injury problems, however, the stars may just be aligning for him as he recently returned to action. Furthermore, particularly in Lukaka’s favour are Belgium’s group rivals, as Canada, Morocco and an ageing Croatia unlikely to put up a stubborn resistance.


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