Go for Gold with French ace
Matt Brocklebank takes an early look at the World Cup Golden Boot market and assesses some of the leading protagonists.
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It’s still early days and a lot can happen in the run-up to a World Cup, with several players no doubt still to be ruled out through injury in the coming weeks, but the Golden Boot market is there to be shot at and it’s best to study the principals in good time.
Lionel Messi tops the list with Sky Bet at 7/1 but the Argentinian star is unlikely to get things all his own way in Brazil.
Here’s a guide to some of the main candidates, starting with Messi himself, plus a couple at bigger prices that may interest the each-way punter.
THE MARKET LEADERS
Prospects: Widely regarded as the best player in world football, La Pulga (The Flea) is still not considered in the same bracket as all-time greats such as Pele and Maradona in certain quarters, having yet to inspire his national side to World Cup glory. Still only 26, the Argentina skipper is likely to get another chance or two all being well but this year, in his ‘home’ continent, would appear the best opportunity to silence the doubters. Messi’s two previous World Cup experiences have not been much fun for the four-time World Player of the Year. He was suffering from injury at the end of the 2005/06 campaign and wasn’t able to play much of a role that summer, his only goal coming in a 6-0 victory over Serbia and Montenegro, before Argentina were knocked out in the quarter-finals. It was quarter-final heartbreak again in Germany 2010, with Messi failing to register a single goal at the tournament. So one strike in eight World Cup appearances thus far doesn’t look great form heading into Brazil, but his staggering 241 goals from 273 Barcelona games tells us all we need to know about the player and, having been drawn to play Iran, Nigeria and Bosnia & Herzegovina, he is quite capable of effectively wrapping the Golden Boot up in the group stage.
Prospects: Luis Suarez’s career has been full of highs and lows; from various suspensions, accusations and a red card on his international debut, to many accolades and awards. It was only last May when he first signalled his intentions to leave Liverpool. Despite sticking to that view until the middle of August 2013 and missing the early part of the season due to serving the remainder of a 10-match ban for biting Branislav Ivanovic, Suarez has since taken the Premier League by storm. A staggering 30 goals in 31 games has seen Suarez help the Reds get close to a first Premier League title and his relative freshness, compared to those who have been involved in gruelling Champions League and Europa League campaigns, should serve him and Uruguay very well this summer. Uruguay’s all-time leading goalscorer looks to be right at the peak of his career and, having terrorised Premier League defenders all season, he won’t be too unhappy to have been drawn with England in Group D. Progress to the knockout stages is far from guaranteed, with Italy sure to prove a stern test, but Suarez has a lot in his favour heading to Brazil and has to be high on the top scorer shortlist.
Prospects: This is the fairytale story of the summer: Neymar, the golden boy of Brazilian football, scoring a hatful to inspire a victory for the host nation. But we’re talking about the real world and fanciful dreams tend not to come true, do they? Well, Neymar’s goals to games strike-rate for Brazil of 30-47 is nothing short of phenomenal. Although Dunga refused to pick him for the 2010 World Cup, Neymar da Silva Santos Junior hasn’t looked back since scoring on his debut for the senior national side later that summer. The 22-year-old was hugely influential in Brazil’s successful Confederations Cup campaign last year and he has firmly established himself in the Barcelona line-up, despite finding the net only nine times in his debut season in La Liga. Neymar certainly comes alive when he slips on the green and yellow shirt and odds of 14/1 are not to be sniffed at, with games against Croatia, Mexico and Cameroon offering decent opportunities to get up and running in the group stage. Brazil look set to go a long way in ‘their’ tournament and if that’s the case then Neymar will be at the heart of it. Perhaps this is one fairytale that could have a happy ending for punters.
Prospects: Cristiano Ronaldo has improved out of all recognition from the youngster signed from Sporting Lisbon by Sir Alex Ferguson in 2003, since when he has scored a staggering 49 times for his country, equalling Portugal’s all-time record set by Pauleta. The Real Madrid superstar netted all four of his country’s goals in their two-legged play-off win over Sweden and heads to Brazil after another stunning season for the Los Merengues. The Portugal captain helped his nation to the final of Euro 2004 and also the semi-finals of Euro 2012, finishing joint-top goalscorer at the latter tournament. Portugal’s 2010 World Cup campaign ended in the Round of 16 following a narrow defeat to eventual champions Spain and therein lies the possible problem when it comes to backing Ronaldo for the Golden Boot in Brazil at the same price as Neymar, who is far more likely to reach the advanced stages of the competition. Nevertheless, Ronaldo will be involved in just about every attack for Portugal and seems sure to have some joy in a group containing Ghana and USA, as well as Germany. Even if they finish runners-up in Group G, the winners of Group H, containing Belgium, Algeria, Russia and Korea, will not pose a particularly daunting challenge for Ronaldo et al so there is obviously a lot to recommend him.
Sergio Aguero – The Manchester City man is next on the list, also priced at 14/1, and it’s not hard to see why. His exceptional eye for goal has seen him net 21 times in just 47 international appearances and his strike-rate for City is outstanding. The obvious drawback is his apparent fitness, or lack thereof, as he’s been struggling with injury for a while and has completed the full 90 minutes on just four occasions all season. He also has a certain Lionel Messi to ‘compete with’ for goals in the Argentina team, although it could obviously be argued playing alongside the likes of Messi should enhance his credentials.
Diego Costa - The Brazilian-born Costa is a fascinating contender, having played twice for Brazil before declaring his desire to represent Spain, where he plies his trade for Atletico Madrid. He looks sure to lead the line for the 2010 World Cup winners this summer and has to enter the equation at 20/1.
Karim Benzema - One player who certainly has the ability to win the top-scorer gong is Real Madrid and France striker Benzema and he could make his pre-tournament odds of 33/1 look silly this summer. His overall record for France (19-65) isn’t in the same league as the likes Ronaldo or Messi, but he’s led the line brilliantly for Real this season and looks a vastly-improved performer at the age of 26.
Wayne Rooney - The shortest priced England players are Rooney (50/1) and Daniel Sturridge (66/1) but it seems an awful long time ago when Gary Lineker won the Golden Boot at Mexico and it’s hard to see England running riot against anyone, let alone the wily defences of Italy and Uruguay.
There could easily be a spot of value in the 7/1 for Lionel Messi claiming this summer’s Golden Boot, but his previous World Cup record leaves something to be desired and, combined with a relatively quiet season for Barcelona, that will be enough to put plenty of people off.
Neymar appeals slightly more than Suarez and Ronaldo, with Brazil more likely to go deep into the tournament than Uruguay or Portugal, but there’s a lot to like about the chances of Karim Benzema.
The draw could not have been kinder to France as they’re in Group E with Switzerland, Honduras and Ecuador and if they and Argentina top their groups, as one would hope, then a Round of 16 tie with Iran, Nigeria or Bosnia & Herzegovina will await.
Benzema’s career in the blue of France has been chequered to say the least. He was reportedly put in his place for being too arrogant by William Gallas and Claude Makelele during Euro 2008 and he was duly left out of the squad entirely for the 2010 World Cup after an indifferent spell for Madrid and a scandal in his personal life.
However, the arrival of Laurent Blanc as coach has seen a change in fortune for Benzema, with the manager keen to build his team around the powerful frontman, and he ended a remarkable international scoring drought lasting 1,222 minutes when netting against Australia in a friendly last October.
His 24 goals from 46 games in all competitions for Madrid this season represents a fine return and he’ll get plenty of ammunition this summer from Franck Ribery and Mathieu Valbuena, as well as Yohan Cabaye.
In conclusion, Benzema is a world-class striker at the top of his game, playing for a country fancied to make the quarter-finals at least. He could give Messi and Neymar a run for their money if the French side click into gear and rip into their inferior group stage opponents.