Goals are football’s currency and, as such, it should come as no surprise that the names of Muller, Kempes, Ronaldo and Rossi are woven into the fabric of this great tournament. Indeed, the list of top scorers at previous FIFA World Cups™ reads like a who’s who of the game’s all-time great marksmen, with Argentina’s Guillermo Stabile leading in 1930 where the likes of Leonidas da Silva, Just Fontaine and Eusebio would stylishly follow. For strikers at South Africa 2010, the challenge is to join this pantheon of goalscoring legends.
With FIFA World Cup immortality at stake, the prize is undeniably attractive, and while most harbour the ambition secretly, others have spoken openly of coveting the adidas Golden Boot. It is now three months since Gonzalo Higuain declared that "my dream is to be the top scorer at the World Cup," and the good news for the Argentina No9 is that he has taken an significant step towards realising that ambition.
After a tense opening round of matches unique for the fact that no individual player scored more than once, it was Higuain – with the first FIFA World Cup hat-trick in eight years - who effectively fired the starter’s gun in the race to finish as South Africa 2010’s top scorer. The Real Madrid striker still leads that particular pursuit, in fact, but even at this stage he is not without some formidable rivals.
Arguably chief among them is Luis Fabiano, whose reaction to scoring twice against Côte d’Ivoire was to declare himself a “dark horse” in the chase to catch and pass Higuain. In the build-up to the tournament, the Brazil centre-forward had pinpointed three main rivals, while also confirming his own ambitions. "[Wayne] Rooney and [David] Villa are players that can fight for the Golden Boot,” he said. “Lionel Messi will also score a lot of goals - and I hope to be among them as well."
While Rooney and Messi have struggled to justify this faith, Villa - the third member of Luis Fabiano’s star trio – did inch closer to Higuain with a brace against Honduras. The Spain striker would even have moved joint-top of the scoring charts had it not been for a missed penalty in the same match, although that is unlikely to dent his self-belief. "It would be great to be top scorer here,” Villa has admitted. "With the quality we have in playing the final ball, I could do it."
Diego Forlan is also to be found lurking just a single goal behind the early pacesetter, although the Uruguay striker insists that he is “not thinking of being top scorer”. Ghana’s Asamoah Gyan has similarly claimed that he is “under no pressure” to continue his own encouraging early scoring form. With two goals apiece already to their name, Forlan and Gyan may struggle to play down expectations that they are genuine contenders, but this should not be the case for others on the same tally.
Korea Republic defender Lee Jung-Soo, for example, will do well to add to his group stage efforts, while midfielders Tiago and Elano must also be considered clear outsiders. Nigeria’s Kalu Uche, meanwhile, will be denied the opportunity to bolster his own two-goal haul thanks to the Super Eagles’ first round exit.
What remains a distinct possibility is that a contender or two could overcome an underwhelming return thus far to stake a major claim, with Messi, Rooney and Fernando Torres among those more than capable. It is also worth keeping an eye on a group of potential candidates who have already opened their South Africa 2010 accounts, a group that includes the likes of Liedson, Dirk Kuyt, Cristiano Ronaldo, Nicklas Bendtner and 2006 winner Miroslav Klose.
Liedson, certainly, has already mentioned the possibility of challenging, while Bendtner showed that he is not short on confidence when asked if he considered himself a contender. “If you ask me,” said the Dane, “if I am the one of the better goalscorers in the world, I would reply yes, because I believe it.”
Boosting his hopes will be the knowledge that, in all but one of the last eight FIFA World Cups – Ronaldo at Korea/Japan 2002 being the exception - it has required a maximum of six goals to top the tournament’s scoring charts. Higuain is currently halfway to reaching that landmark, but with such a vast array of strike talent on show in South Africa, the pursuit of the Golden Boot seems highly unlikely to a one-horse race.
For a look at those in the running for this year’s Golden Boot and a list of the men who have topped the scoring charts at previous FIFA World Cups, just click on the links to the right.