There are 736 players going to Rio to represent their nations in the World Cup, and it is a feather in many a punter’s cap if they can pluck out which of those stars is going to be boarding the plane home with the Golden Boot at the end of the competition. The World Cup rolls around just once every four years and picking out the top scorer gives you bragging rights from now until 2018. It’s a sure-fire way to earn free drinks off your mates, gain your parent’s respect and pick up hot dates for the next four years.
And with that incentive in mind, here are the six golden rules you should follow in picking the winner.
Is it the pressure of the local papers, or knowing full well that there is a city of angry football fans waiting just outside the stadium if you cock up? Either way, being on home soil isn’t necessarily as much of an advantage as you might think. In fact it appears that playing away can actually be of benefit to the players in a World Cup year. Maybe John Terry had it right all along?
- Just four of the 25 Golden Boot winners were playing in their home nation the year that they won. That’s just a 16% strike rate, and it has happened just once in the last six years
- The last player to do it on home soil was Miraslav Klose in 2006 for Germany. The striker lived up to every ruthlessly efficient stereotype by finding the onion bag five times in just seven games
- Although this doesn’t bode well for Fred and Neymar, the only other time the World Cup was held in Brazil, back in 1950, it was indeed a Brazilian that picked up the Golden Boot. Ademir snaffled eight goals on the way to picking up a runners-up medal which isn’t too shabby at all, and will give the local lads plenty of confidence despite the trends being against them.
It might sound ridiculously obvious, but strikers score plenty of goals. Some countries (nudge, nudge Australia) won’t score any goals at all in Rio. Others have previously played lots of small fancy midfielders with designer stubble and an eye for an intricate through ball, rather than a big lump up top. That might explain why a Spaniard has never picked up the World Cup Golden Boot, because picking a striker is a nailed-on must.
- Just two midfielders in the history of the World Cup have won the Golden Boot, giving strikers a 92 per cent success rate
- The most common tally you need to pick up the Golden Boot is six goals, and the average required is seven. On the two occasions when midfielders were top scorers, the tally required was lower – Thomas Muller in 2010 scored five for Germany and Garrincha for Brazil scored just four in 1962
- Muller, four years ago, was the first midfielder to win the Golden Boot in almost half a century
Clearly if your top scorer punt gets a run out against some of the smaller countries, known for their luxury holiday destinations rather than their footballing pedigree, you’d fancy yourself to be quids in. These are the World Cup finals however, so not too much small fry is going to slip through the net. With that in mind take advantage in the group stage and give yourself some healthy foundations.
- 61 per cent of top scorers in World Cup history bagged more than half of their goals in the group stage of the tournament. 26 per cent of winners actually got more than two-thirds of their goals in the first three games
- Just three players in World Cup history have managed to win the Golden Boot without scoring a goal in the group stages – Brazilian’s Vava and Garrincha in 1962 and Mario Kempes for Argentina in 1978
- In 1994 Russian Oleg Salenko became just the third player to win the Golden Boot after scoring all of his six goals in the group stages. He bagged five in Russia’s 6-1 thumping of Cameroon and nobody could catch him after that
Without stating the obvious, it isn’t the best idea to back a striker who has been showcasing his inability to hit a barn door week after week for his club all season. A good strike rate will fill any striker with confidence, and should bump him up your shortlist for the World Cup. A goal every other game is the unwritten benchmark for a good striker in the Premier League and the World Cup trends appear to go that way as well.
- More than half of the Golden Boot winners (55 per cent) racked up an average of a goal every other game or better for their club in the season running up to the World Cup
- Just 20 per cent of World Cup top scorers had an average of one goal every three games or worse in the league season immediately before the tournament
- In the last eight World Cups, going back to 1982, Croatia’s Davor Suker was the only winner (in 1998) not to have averaged a goal every 2.5 games or better for his club the season before the World Cup kicked off
Taking on the goalkeeper unopposed from 12 yards is a pretty handy way to rack up the goals – unless you’re English. For every other nationality the hardest part is deciding how you’re going to celebrate the inevitable goal. The knee-slide, the Kevin Nolan chicken dance or maybe something more exotic straight from the training ground? Being on penalty duty is clearly an advantage, however when you’re backing a Golden Boot winner, history states that you shouldn’t hype up the spot-kick masters too much.
- 75 per cent of Golden Boot winners didn’t score a penalty on their way to picking up the award, and none of the last three winners (Thomas Muller, Miraslav Klose or Ronaldo) were on penalty duty for their side
- In the 2010 World Cup only nine penalties were scored during the 64 games – an average of one every seven games. The maximum amount of games you are able to have at a World Cup is seven meaning the chances of even getting a chance form the spot is slim
- The two notable exceptions to this rule are Eusebio who scored four penalties in the 1966 World Cup on the way to racking up nine for Portugal, and 1994 Golden Boot winner Hristo Stoichkov. The Bulgarian scored three penalties and three goals from open play to top the scoring charts
It might sound straightforward again, but the more games a player is involved in, the greater his chances of winning the Golden Boot. Getting to the semi-final stage of the World Cup guarantees your selection seven games and thus improves their chances of bagging six or seven goals along the way. Bar an absolute goal-fest in one of your opening group games it is ridiculously hard to win the accolade if you’re boarding a plane home just two weeks after the tournament kicks off.
- 83 per cent of Golden Boot winners made it to the semi-final stage
- However just five players have won the Golden Boot and the World Cup trophy in the same year. The Brazilian Ronaldo was the last player to do this in 2002 and bagged two goals in the final
- Russia’s Oleg Salenko (the man who knocked in five against Cameroon) is the only man to have been eliminated at the group stage and still finish as the top scorer. He is also the only winner in the last seven tournaments not to make the final four
And so we reach the point where we tentatively put forward our pick for the Golden Boot. Considering the above rules it would be crazy not to have a look at Argentina. There are just seven teams in the World Cup ranked 33 or lower in the October 2013 FIFA world rankings, and two of them, Iran and Nigeria, are in Argentina’s group so you’d be confident Alejandro Sabella’s attacking side can take advantage. They also have the benefit of being used to the climate, but without the stress of being host nation so that’s another box ticked.
Lionel Messi is the 8/1 favourite for the award, but why not look at Gonzalo Higuain who is incredibly almost three times the price at 22/1. Higuain has 17 goals in 32 league games for Napoli this season so he’s bang in form, and he has a goal every 1.7 games for the national side which is a better record than Lionel Messi’s.
In qualifying for the World Cup Messi bagged 10 goals in 14 appearances, while Higuain scored nine goals despite playing three less games. Throw in the little nugget that in Argentina’s run to the quarter-finals in 2010, Higuain knocked in four goals in four games, while Messi played all five and failed to get on the scoresheet. Suddenly that 22/1 looks more appealing than a fresh bacon sandwich and piping hot brew on a Monday morning.
At a slightly bigger price, Bosnia’s Edin Dzeko could be the each-way value at 100/1. Like the Argentines he will get the chance to fill his boots against Iran and Nigeria, and you would hope Bosnia can sneak through Group F in second. That gives them a very good chance of winning the second round tie (presumably against France) and before you know it Dzeko has five games under his belt. The striker scored 16 goals in 31 games for Man City this season and has 13 goals in his last 19 games for the national side.
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