World Cup Golden Boot: Analysis of previous winners
Many of the world’s best attacking players are competing at Qatar 2022 but only one of them can win the World Cup Golden Boot.
This is the award given to the tournament’s top goalscorer, with ties settled using most non-penalty goals, most assists and then fewest minutes played.
We have analysed the achievements of the 30 players who have scored at least four goals at a World Cup since 1998 – the first tournament to feature 32 teams – to predict who could top the scoring charts this year.
Does it matter how many games you play?
An obvious advantage in the race for the World Cup Golden Boot is playing more games, with players whose national teams go further in the competition having more time in which to find the net.
All of our 30 players reached the quarter-finals, with almost twice as many – 19 to 11 – getting to the semi-finals.
Thanks to the existence of the third-place play-off match, all teams reaching the final four will play a total of seven games regardless of how they fare from that point.
Do prolific goalscorers find the net straight away?
Not only do the World Cup’s top goalscorers get off the mark early, but they often lay down an impressive marker.
Only six of the 30 players to have struck at least four times at a finals since 1998 failed to open their account in their country’s first group game, and 13 of the 24 who scored managed to get at least a brace.
This is bad news for Harry Kane’s chances of a second successive Golden Boot: England’s star striker set up two goals in their 6-2 rout of Iran but failed to get on the scoresheet himself.
Do World Cup Golden Boot winners spread their strikes around?
Another element to consider is whether a prolific scorer tends to score individual goals here and there or bag multiple goals in a game.
In total our 30 players have scored 140 times and exactly half of those goals were their only strike of a game, with the other 70 coming as part of either a brace or a hat-trick.
In fact only three of the 40 failed to score multiple goals in a single game. The 1998 World Cup Golden Boot winner Davor Šuker scored in six of Croatia’s seven matches, while Rivaldo’s five in 2002 and Antoine Griezmann’s four in 2018 were also all against different opponents.
However, we can safely say that it is much more likely that the World Cup 2022 top goalscorer will score multiple times at least once, as the other 27 names on our list have done.
It is worth bearing in mind that three of the five Golden Boot winners since Šuker have scored multiple goals on two occasions.
Kane bagged five in England’s first two group games at the 2018 tournament, Miroslav Klose also struck braces in two of Germany’s 2006 group games while Ronaldo’s second brace in 2002 came in the final.
Is it sensible to back a striker?
The most obvious candidates for the Golden Boot will be centre forwards, given their traditional role as the team’s goalscorer.
Recent World Cups, though, have seen midfield players become increasingly prolific and challenge the strikers’ monopoly on the goalscoring charts.
To see this trend more clearly we can go back further to 1986 when the current knockout format was introduced. While fewer teams participated back then, the number of matches played remained the same.
Of the 29 players scoring at least four times in one of these tournaments, only three did not predominantly play at centre forward: Argentinian legend Diego Maradona, German midfield dynamo Lothar Matthäus and Spanish winger Michel.
However, in the five most recent World Cups more than a third of the prolific goalscorers – including two Golden Boot winners – were stationed in midfield.
Thomas Müller netted five times for Germany in 2010 while Colombia’s James Rodríguez hit six in 2014 despite his side only reaching the quarter-finals.
While centre-forwards still dominate – as evidenced by Kane topping the charts in 2018 – it is no longer naive to back a midfield player in the Golden Boot race.
Bukayo Saka’s brace against Iran underlines the potential of those playing behind the central striker to benefit from their hold-up play and apply the killer touch.
Will penalties make the difference?
Another trend worth noting from the more recent World Cups is top scorers’ reliance on spot-kicks to climb the charts.
Penalties haven’t traditionally provided much of an edge, with fewer than a third of high-scoring players between 1998 and 2010 having converted one. In fact only one of the 24 goals attributed to the four World Cup Golden Boot winners across those tournaments was scored from the spot.
The last two World Cups have flipped this pattern on its head though, with seven of the 11 players netting at least four goals in either 2014 or 2018 converting at least one penalty kick. This includes three apiece for both Kane and Griezmann in the latter tournament, while in 2014 Lionel Messi was the only one of the five players with at least four goals not to have netted from the spot.
One of the factors behind this change is likely to be the controversial introduction of VAR, which has seen the number of penalties skyrocket.
In total there were 29 awarded at the 2018 tournament, which smashed the record of 18 set in 2002 and gave the players with the steeliest nerves an advantage in the race for the Golden Boot.
If this pattern holds in 2022 then we should definitely be leaning towards designated penalty takers such as Messi, Kane and Neymar, even if their team-mates appear to pose a greater threat from open play.
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