Battle hots up for golden reward
As the end of the league season around Europe draws ever closer, FIFA.com takes a closer look at the increasingly fierce contest between the continental sharpshooters in the running for the coveted Golden Shoe award.
A number of these feared hitmen have rediscovered the path to goal after difficult periods, as in the cases of Cameroon striker Samuel Eto'o or France's Nicolas Anelka. Others, like Austria's Marc Janko, the Italian Marco Di Vaio and Scottish forward Kris Boyd, are merely continuing to underline their status among the very best their leagues have to offer.
Janko firing Red Bull charge
Spearheading Red Bull Salzburg's charge to the Austrian Bundesliga title is towering striker Marc Janko, currently leading the race for the Golden Shoe with a staggering 32 league goals in 25 games - exactly half his team's tally so far.
Perhaps the best example of the 25-year-old's devastating form this season came in the match at Altach on 19 October 2008, when ‘The Tank' blasted three goals in nine second-half minutes before plundering a fourth late on in a 4-3 comeback success. "The team is working really well for me, but times can change," said the modest front-runner. "Strikers often go long periods without scoring."
Happy days are here again
Janko is not the only goal-getter to find the net four times this season. Indeed, his closest rival in the race for the Golden Shoe, Samuel Eto'o of Barcelona, struck four times for the Liga leaders against Real Valladolid on matchday 10. The former Real Madrid and Mallorca striker, placed on the transfer list by Barça in the summer, seized the lifeline thrown to him by coach Josep Guardiola to form part of one of the world's most feared and effective frontlines.
Aiding and abetting 23-goal Eto'o have been Argentinian wizard Lionel Messi (18 goals) and French flyer Thierry Henry (14), with the triumvirate's tally of 55 higher than that scored by any other Primera Division side, barring second-placed Real Madrid.
"Samuel's having a fantastic year, and not just in terms of goals," said Guardiola. "He's an extraordinary goalscorer and I'm delighted that he's enjoying himself and helping us. The only thing I've done is try and convince him that if he plays just for himself he won't win anything."
Another striker firing on all cylinders this campaign has been Nicolas Anelka, whose 15 goals have helped keep Chelsea in contention for Premier League honours. And given the renaissance of Côte d'Ivoire forward Didier Drogba since Guus Hiddink took charge at Stamford Bridge, the Blues should be now be even more deadly going forward.
"What matters is scoring goals and winning games, it doesn't matter who does it," said Anelka. "I could be the one scoring now, then it might be Didier. I hope that between the two of us we can achieve great things."
New kids on the block
Pushing these established attackers hard are a number of less famous faces, such as Hoffenheim's 18-goal man, Vedad Ibisevic. However, having gone toe to toe with Janko and Eto'o, a serious knee injury suffered in January has sidelined the Bosnia-Herzegovina forward for the remainder of the Bundesliga season.
Nearby in the Netherlands, 24-year-old Moroccan striker Mounir El Hamdaoui has been one of the key figures in AZ Alkmaar's attempts to win their first Eredivisie title for 28 years. Louis Van Gaal's men are currently soaring 11 points clear of nearest challengers FC Twente, thanks in no small part to El Hamdaoui's 20 goals.
Well-travelled front-man Marco Di Vaio, who has played and scored in Italian, Spanish and French football, is enjoying a new lease of life with Serie A strugglers Bologna. The 32-year-old's hat-trick in the 3-0 win over Sampdoria on 8 March took him to 19 goals for the season, four ahead of Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Alberto Gilardino.
Turning to Scotland, Rangers front-man Kris Boyd is another with a proven nose for goal, as demonstrated by his 21 strikes in the Scottish Premier League this campaign. Boyd is therefore in with a great chance of finishing the division's top scorer for the third time in four seasons.
In France's Ligue 1, Toulouse's 23-year-old Andre-Pierre Gignac is leading the way in the race to succeed last season's top scorer Karim Benzema. Gignac's tally of 16 goals keeps him one clear of Paris Saint-Germain's Guillaume Hoarau although, with Lyon now out of the French Cup and UEFA Champions League, 12-goal Benzema should not be written off just yet.
All in all, the goalscorers' art appears to be alive and well across Europe's top leagues this season. And with championships, European berths and relegation issues still very much in the balance throughout the continent, sharpshooters everywhere continue to be worth their weight in gold.