When two outstanding strikers go head to head in a battle to be the continent’s leading marksman, it can overshadow almost everything else going on around it – as was the case in the European season just concluding. With goalscoring numbers that beggared belief, Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo broke records galore, in the process eclipsing a host of other in-form strikers who also managed notable feats.
In this category were such household names as Robin van Persie, Klaas-Jan Huntelaar and Wayne Rooney, as well as lesser lights such as Bas Dost, Burak Yilmaz and Seydou Doumbia. Yet despite enjoying fruitful campaigns, none of the latter came close to matching the 50 goals scored by Messi in La Liga (72 in all competitions) or the 46 by Ronaldo.
However, in the interests of fairness, FIFA.com is saluting the achievements of some of those who racked up goals in the shadow of La Liga’s big two with a look back at this season’s most significant scoring feats across Europe.
After Messi and Ronaldo, the next best league goalscorer – according to the ranking used for the European Golden Shoe – was Van Persie, who netted 30 times for Arsenal. The Dutchman enjoyed much more playing time this campaign than in previous seasons and almost doubled his league goals’ tally from 2010/11. Moreover, in terms of calendar years, his 35 league goals in 2011 were just one short of the 36 managed by former England star Alan Shearer in 1995.
Next on the list, and proof that the Netherlands will carry a potent attacking threat at UEFA EURO 2012, was Van Persie’s Oranje team-mate, Huntelaar. By netting 29 times to power Schalke 04 to a third-place finish in the Bundesliga, ‘The Hunter’ became the first Dutchman to top the scoring charts in the German top flight. And all that after a disappointing 2010/11, which yielded a mere eight league goals.
Rooney also enjoyed his best return to date in terms of league goals, which will be some consolation in the wake of the final-day disappointment of losing the title. All told, the Manchester United star found the net 27 times, one more than his corresponding tally in 2009/10.
Completing the quartet of heavy hitters was Zlatan Ibrahimovic. And while the Swede ended the season without silverware for the first time in almost a decade, he could at least take comfort from becoming the first player to be crowned top scorer in Serie A with two different clubs, following his 28 this season for AC Milan and 25 for rivals Inter in 2008/09.
Ones to watch
Turkish striker Yilmaz and the Dutchman Dost may not command the same attention as the former group, but they have every right to claim a place alongside their more celebrated colleagues. In fact, both ended their respective league campaigns with very impressive stats, the former racking up 33 goals and the latter 32.
Trabzonspor goal-machine Yilmaz’s impressive tally came at a rate of very nearly a goal a game, with his total more than double that of his closest pursuers in the race for leading marksman’s honours in the Super Lig. That said, the prolific front-man will be disappointed by his relative lack of impact in this season’s UEFA Champions League or Europa League.
Not far behind in the league goals’ stakes was youngster Dost who, powered by his imposing 1.92m frame, helped fire his club SC Heerenveen to a fifth-place finish in the Eredivisie. The Dutch starlet struck two or more goals in a match on no fewer than eight occasions, with a five-goal blitz against Excelsior a particular individual highlight.
Turning to Russia, Côte d’Ivoire striker Doumbia made headlines aplenty, thanks largely to firing five goals in CSKA Moscow’s positive Champions League campaign and another 28 in domestic league action. This included a purple patch in October when he struck nine goals at a rate of nearly two a game, though his output did drop significantly after his trip to January/February’s CAF Africa Cup of Nations. Indeed, following the continental showpiece Doumbia scored just four times in his next 14 appearances for CSKA.
Though the Estonian Meistriliiga would not figure on a list of Europe’s leading championships, the feats of Trans Narva attacker Aleksandrs Cekulajevs in the 2011 season should not go unmentioned. A scorer of 46 goals in 35 games, the same tally as Cristiano Ronaldo, Cekulajevs helped his club to a third-place finish, though they did come home 13 points behind champions Flora Talinn. Nor were opposing defences always in a miserly mood, with Cekulajevs grabbing six, five and four-goal hauls in respective 14-0, 12-0 and 7-0 wins for his side over the course of the campaign.
Proving their worth
The raw numbers might not be so astronomical, but there are a host of other forwards who have been in fine recent goalscoring form. Among them is Colombian sharpshooter Radamel Falcao, a Europa League winner and the competition's top scorer for the past two seasons; Senegal’s Papiss Cisse, who in 2011/12 struck nine league goals for Freiburg before adding another 13 for Newcastle United; Argentinian poacher Gonzalo Higuain, a scorer of 22 La Liga goals this season despite playing second-fiddle for much of the campaign to 21-goal Frenchman Karim Benzema; and Brazilian hitman Wesley, whose 27 goals have helped keep FC Vaslui in the hunt for the title in Romania’s Liga I.
In France’s Ligue 1, the 2011/12 champions will be decided this weekend, and so too will the tussle between joint-leading scorers Olivier Giroud and Nene, of first-placed Montpellier and second-placed Paris Saint-Germain respectively. Currently level on 21 goals apiece, both players have significantly improved on their previous season’s tallies, regardless of what happens on Sunday’s final matchday.