The FIFA World Cup™ Trophy is not the only prestigious piece of silverware that will be up for grabs when the Netherlands take on Spain at the Soccer City Stadium on Sunday evening. Also at stake will be the adidas Golden Boot, the race for which is currently being headed by two players who will be on show in the Final.
With five goals apiece, Netherlands midfielder Wesley Sneijder and Spain striker David Villa are the men in pole position, although there are a clutch of players tucked in just behind them with the chance to boost their goal tallies in Saturday’s match for third place. Germany duo Thomas Muller and Miroslav Klose both have four goals to their name, the same amount as Uruguayan spearhead Diego Forlan, with his strike partner Luis Suarez still in the running on three.
The eventual winner, or winners, will join a long and esteemed list of recipients of the award, all of them great goalscorers who have lit up football's premier event with their finishing skills.
“It (the award) changed my life in a number of ways,” said ex-England striker Gary Lineker, the top scorer at Mexico 1986, in an exclusive interview with FIFA.com. “I’d gone into the World Cup without having scored for a few games and I didn’t score in the first couple of matches at the finals either. My place in the team was under threat as a result, but then within ten days I was the leading scorer and I was getting all this attention from everyone.”
The former Leicester City and Barcelona striker is just one of 18 players to have top-scored at the FIFA World Cup over the years. No country has contributed more winners of the Golden Boot than Brazil with four. Italy, Argentina, Germany and Hungary are next on the list with two each, while France, Poland, Portugal, England, Russia, Croatia, Bulgaria and Czechoslovakia have all produced one leading marksman since the tournament’s inception in 1930.
The very first recipient of the Golden Boot was Guillermo Stabile of Argentina. Appearing in four of La Albiceleste’s five games at Uruguay 1930, he racked up an impressive eight goals, one of them coming in his side’s 4-2 defeat to the hosts in the Final. Four years later in Italy it was the turn of Czechoslovakia’s Oldrich Nejedly to beat the field, this time with five goals, a haul that included a semi-final hat-trick against Germany.
The star of France 1938 was unquestionably Brazil’s Leonidas da Silva, who claimed the goalscorers’ award with a total of seven strikes. His finishing abilities were sorely missed in the semi against Italy, the Brazilians going down 2-1 to the eventual winners, who repeated their triumph of four years earlier. Leonidas’s compatriot Ademir de Menezes outscored everyone at Brazil 1950 with nine goals in all, though it was not enough for the hosts to lift the Jules Rimet Trophy, Uruguay ending their dreams in front of a disbelieving 200,000 crowd at the Maracana.
At the next two world finals Sandor Kocsis and Just Fontaine reached landmarks that today’s goalscorers can only dream of attaining. The Hungarian was the star of the show at Switzerland 1954, bagging a handsome 11 goals, a record that was topped in Sweden four years later by the free-scoring Frenchman, whose tally of 13 is one more than the great Pele managed in four finals competitions. Both Kocsis and Fontaine also achieved the feat of scoring four goals in a single game.
Since then only one player has managed to reach double figures in a single tournament: the incomparable Gerd Muller, who found the back of the net ten times at Mexico 1970. Poland’s Grzegorz Lato topped the charts at Germany 1974 with seven, but in the next six finals a tally of six goals was enough to take the goalscoring crown, the accolade going, in chronological order, to Mario Kempes, Paolo Rossi, Lineker, Salvatore Schillaci, Hristo Stoichkov and Oleg Salenko, and Davor Suker.
Kempes and Rossi are two members of select group of players to have either won or shared the Golden Boot and collected a winners medal in the same finals, an honour they share with Brazil duo Garrincha and Vava, joint leading marksmen at Chile 1962, and their compatriot Ronaldo, who led the way in Brazil’s charge to the title at Korea/Japan 2002.
Incidentally, no player has scored more goals in the tournament’s history than O Fenômeno, whose record of 15 is under threat from Klose, the leading goal-getter at Germany 2006 and now just one goal behind the great Brazilian finisher on 14.
Whether the German veteran can add another adidas Golden Boot to his collection remains to be seen, though Klose and his fellow candidates at South Africa 2010 would surely agree with Lineker’s assessment of the impact that winning the coveted award can have on a player’s career: “I went from being a reasonably well known player in England to being a world-famous one and ended up earning a move to Barcelona. It was very important not just to my career to my life in general.”