2018 FIFA World Cup – Golden Boot Preview

History

Since 1970, 13 players have written themselves into World Cup folklore by winning the Golden Boot. It was shared in 1994 but from a betting perspective there was also a four-way tie at the top of the scoring charts in 2010, so we will treat it as if there have been 16 Golden Boot winners in this time.

13 of these 16 players represented teams that at least reached the semi-finals and so played in either the 3/4 play-off or the final. The exceptions are Oleg Salenko (1994) who scored five in one group game and finished on six goals as Russia were knocked out in the groups, Gary Lineker who scored six for England in 1986 when they were knocked out in the quarter-finals, and James Rodriguez who struck six for Colombia before a quarter-final exit four years ago.

Furthermore, 16 of the 17 players to be just one goal off sharing the Golden Boot played for teams that at least reached the quarter-finals with nine making the semis. So, we can forget about players from teams we don’t fancy making an impression at the Finals.

Six goals would have been enough to win the Golden Boot in all the past 12 World Cups, while in 2006 and 2010, lower scoring editions, five strikes were enough. Filling your boots against weaker teams in the group stage isn’t a necessity as nine of the 16 top scorers averaged more goals per game in the knockout phase and Paolo Rossi in ’82 and Mario Kempes in ’78 didn’t even score in the groups.

However, some easy group matches won’t hurt and 12 of the 16 top scorers did net at least twice at this stage. So, it has been important to look for strikers that have scored goals throughout the tournament and this has led to Golden Boot winners largely being their nation’s main striker who has been a consistent scorer against the best teams as well as against weaker sides.


Leading Contenders (Nation, Odds)

Lionel Messi (Argentina, 12) was so disillusioned with international football after a third major final defeat in as many years in 2016 that he briefly retired from the international game. Since returning he has scored nine times in 11 starts, accounting for 60% of Argentina’s goals across these games and single-handedly getting them to these finals. He ended another season for Barcelona with a fantastic strike-rate but with the likes of Higuain and Aguero in the squad, Messi will operate slightly deeper for his country and our questions marks over how far Argentina will progress in the tournament also count against him.

Neymar (Brazil, 12.5), the golden boy of Brazilian football, faces a race to be fully match fit for the start of the tournament, but prior to the injury he’d scored an impressive 28 goals in 32 appearances for PSG this season and in his comeback against Croatia he took just 24 minutes to find the mark. He has one of the most prolific strike-rate’s in international football with 54 goals from 84 appearances, but he only scored six goals in qualifying compared to his nine assists as he operates from the left with either Jesus or Firmino up front.

Antoine Griezmann (France, 14) was the poster boy for France during Euro 2016 and he didn’t disappoint as he scored six times, picking up the golden boot on the way to their defeat in the final. Usually in a squad with so much attacking talent we would be reluctant to back a top scorer but Griezmann looks to be a mainstay in Deschamps plans as the designated penalty taker and playing as the secondary striker with the others fitted around him. With two weak sides in Australia and Peru in their group and a potential quarter-final with Uruguay, France have a fantastic opportunity to make at least the semi-finals, so the Atletico man certainly enters the equation.

Cristiano Ronaldo (Portugal, 22) was prolific with 15 goals during qualifying and is always one of the more popular bets amongst punters. However, CR7 has a return of just 12 goals from 34 matches at major tournaments, never scoring more than three in a single competition, even when they won Euro 2016. They were very fortunate two years ago, only winning one game in 90 minutes as they lacked creativity and they won’t be able to get away with that at a World Cup, especially in a group with Spain. With a quarter-final probably the best result for Portugal, Ronaldo is once against best avoided here.

Gabriel Jesus (Brazil, 17) only made his debut in 2016, but has quickly become Brazil’s first choice centre forward, bagging nine goals in 15 appearances including seven from 10 in qualification to finish as top-scorer for the South American giants. At Man City he’s proven he has a fantastic eye for goal and with question marks over Neymar’s fitness, Tite will be looking towards the 21-year-old as their main source of goals.

Timo Werner (Germany, 18) looks set to be given a chance at leading the line for Germany with the alternative the 32-year-old Mario Gomez or Thomas Muller as a false nine, but the Bayern man has scored just 15 times in 45 matches. After a couple of successful seasons with Leipzig, Werner translated his form to the international stage with three goals in the Confederations Cup and has seven in 13 games overall for Germany. He’ll probably need to score in his first couple of games to keep his place but if he achieves this then with Germany looking like great bets to make the semis, Werner becomes an attractive choice.

Harry Kane (England, 18.5) was only prevented from winning his third consecutive golden boot in the Premier League by Mo Salah and he’ll be England’s leader and talisman for this World Cup. He won’t be taking corners this time round and with eight goals in the last seven starts for his country and a likely lone striker role, the Spurs man is certainly the Three Lions most likely goal scorer. The issue is England haven’t been prolific scorers under Southgate and indeed in previous major tournaments and with a quarter-final their likeliest best result, Kane can be overlooked.

Romelu Lukaku (Belgium, 20) was Belgium’s top marksman with 11 goals during qualifying as they amassed an impressive 43 goals in total, while his immediate form is red hot with 10 in his last seven caps. Averaging a goal every other game for his country is a fantastic strike-rate and with the Red Devils expected to go deep in the tournament and quality in the side to provide him with opportunities, Lukaku certainly represents greater value than some of those ahead of him in the market.

Luis Suarez (Uruguay, 28) and Edison Cavani (Uruguay, 29) make up one of the most potent strike partnerships at this World Cup and with Uruguay in such a weak group should fancy themselves to get off to a flyer. Whereas Suarez plays up top on his own for Barca, on international duty he is given licence to roam while Cavani leads the line and the latter played the key role in qualifying, leading the way in South America with 10 goals. Suarez tends to do something inane at the World Cup, getting sent off for a handball in 2010 and bizarrely biting Chiellini four years ago. Since that incident he’s only played 18 times for Uruguay, scoring nine times, whereas Cavani has 20 in 34 matches and would be our pick to finish as Uruguay’s leading marksman.

Diego Costa (Spain, 30) is one of just two centre forwards in the Spanish squad and is likely to be given the nod ahead of Rodrigo. The 2008 champions have proven in the past that they can win major tournaments without an out-and-out striker, but Julen Lopetegui preference is to play with one up top and Costa started every time he was fit during qualifiers. Since choosing Spain over Brazil back in 2014, he’s only made 19 appearances but has scored seven times including five from five in those qualifiers.

Eden Hazard (Belgium, 46) is one most exciting talents in world football and arguably the best of this golden generation for Belgium. Captaining the side, he’ll look to lead from the front and with his future at Stamford Bridge unsure it’s a great opportunity to put on a show for his potential suitors. Roberto Martinez has highlisted his importance by utilising him in a central role behind Lukaku rather than out wide and this should give him more of an opportunity to get into scoring positions. Prior to this switch he had a return of 14 goals from 72 appearances but since he’s bagged seven in 12 whilst he also has the responsibility for taking penalties.


Our View

Antoine Griezmann excelled at Euro 2016 and again he makes the most appeal out of the short-priced players. Question marks remain over how sharp Neymar will be while we’re not confident Argentina or Portugal will go deep enough in the tournament, leading us to sway away from serial Ballon d’Or winners Messi and Ronaldo. Two years ago, at his home tournament, Griezmann impressively netted four of his six goals in the knockout stages and despite only scoring in six of 17 matches for Les Bleus since, he proved he’s still the man for the big occasion when leading Atletico to Europa League glory with two goals in the final.

Spain, Belgium and Germany, however, are our strongest fancies to make at least the semi-finals and therefore guarantee themselves the maximum seven matches. Timo Werner is the shortest price of any of the players from these nations but it’s a big ask for him to deliver in his first major tournament at such a young age. Thomas Muller is a more tempting bet at 34 having scored five goals in both 2014 and 2010, but his club form this season puts us off and he didn’t score at Euro 2016.

Instead, our main Golden Boot fancies are from Spain and Belgium. The likes of Isco, Marco Asensio and David Silva all chipped in during qualifiers for Spain and again are expected to do so in Russia, but Diego Costa’s sole job will be to be on the end of moves and put the ball in the back of the net. With so much quality in the midfield, Costa should be the one that benefits and at an attractive price.

Romelu Lukaku is clear favourite to be Belgium’s top scorer compared to Hazard and Mertens. However, like the criticism he often receives at Man Utd, Lukaku is a bit of a flat track bully for his country with eight of his qualifying goals against the bottom-three finishers in Belgium’s group. With England in their group and stronger opponents in the knockout stages, it remains to be seen whether Lukaku can dominate against the worlds best. We know Hazard can and he is the preference over Mertens as the Chelsea man is guaranteed to start and in a central position.


Betting Strategy

Antoine Griezmann to be Top Goalscorer at 14

Diego Costa to be Top Goalscorer at 30

Eden Hazard to be Top Goalscorer at 46


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