There are players that are eternally revered and eulogised. Puskas, Eusebio, Pele, Maradona, Cruyff. Remarkably, only one of that quintuple has reached the Parthenon of goal-scoring divinity; only Eusebio has won the World Cup’s Golden Shoe.
Anglophiles will be placing their hopes on Manchester United’s and England’s talisman, Wayne Rooney, with his temprement and desire he has to be a very interesting bet. However, as has been demonstrated, the competition this summer will be more competitive than ever and it will certainly not be exclusive to the strikers.
It’s true that most players are cemented in memory more by aesthetics and infamy than goal-scoring prowess, but there’s something just not quite right about Pele’s absence from the list of top World Cup goal-scorers. In fact, it’s almost an insult to the Brazilian’s genius to place Davor Suker, who scored six goals in 1998 to win the coveted honour, above Pele in any table or list. And yet, here we are.
Scoring goals, especially at the pinnacle of an international tournament, has a lot to do with fortune, efficiency, the team and the opposition. It’s quite possible that Pele could have achieved the feat, but he was a man guided more by the pleasure and pursuit of aesthetic perfection than world domination. Maradona, meanwhile – in comparison to Suker who became the focal point of an abundantly creative Croatian side, was hampered more by the lack of support from teammates – Carlos Bilardo, then the Argentinean coach, famously stated that seven of his players were to act primarily in a defensive capacity, an anachronistic concept for the era.
And now that strikers often operate as a lone force or in some cases as a false nine, there has never been a greater emphasis on the offensive work propagated by the midfield. Prior to the end of last season, in fact, many critics debated the future of the common centre-forward as the numbers of successful goal poachers dramatically decreased and Roma’s almost mythological 4-6-0 (Click here) was put forward as a possible vision of the future. And, though the latter has been put on hold, for now at least, the former has almost become an official decree.
The success of Leo Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo, Francesco Totti, Carlos Tevez, Wayne Rooney (though, he has played as a conventional forward more often this year) and numerous others can be explained by their ability to drop deep and attack from that deeper position, aided by the runs and the creativity of teammates around them. Of course, a lot then depends on the forwards’ teammate’s abilities to create and enter space. With that said, there’s been no real detrimental effect on a striker’s goal-scoring efficacy by the outsourcing of the attacking burden, at least at club level.
National teams, however, often struggle to implement such a complex system. The system requires fluidity and even universality in a player’s ability. It’s essential that each player knows where their teammates are likely to be at any given time, so they instantly know whether to drop off, fill in or attack. At club level, aided by daily training drills, this is easy; but as most international managers will testify, weaving together an effective, fluid system between a bunch of individuals who rarely come together is an improbable accomplishment.
Despite these shortfalls in, high tempo pressing has almost become universal in the higher echelons of the game. This high tempo pressing, which has almost bordered on perfection in recent years, will provide yet another huge kinetic obstacle to strikers this year. Defensive disciplinarians will also be aided by the relatively cool South African winter in their closing down of the opposition. Those old enough to remember will have noted how the intense heat in Mexico at the 1970 World Cup scuppered the Italian defence, even at the height of catenaccio (Click here), and allowed Brazil to waltz away with a 4-1 victory in the final; it’s, therefore, not too preposterous to assume that the reverse may happen in relatively cooler climes.
Taking this into consideration; the fact that you can not always rely on the geniuses of the game; the decline of goal poachers and the proliferation of more rounded centre-forwards; the inherent flaws of international coaching; and the increase in technically aware and disciplined defenders, buoyed by the winter climate, it’s going to be a hard task to predict who will leave Africa with the golden footwear. Given the extra competition, it’s not too unrealistic to predict that a midfielder could take the honours.
Manchester United’s favourite ex, Cristiano Ronaldo could be in pole position, then. His outstanding form for Real Madrid fathered him 26 goals in 29 appearances this season. Moreover, the winger’s potency could also be boosted by a central deployment because of Portugal’s surplus of talented wingers and their lack of quality upfront. It’s Carlos Queiroz’s call, but it makes empirical sense.
Leo Messi has also shone brightly this season equalling Ronaldo’s superb Barcelona goal-scoring record in the 96-97 season. He has had the fortune of working alongside some of the greatest playmakers the world has seen at Barcelona and it would be a true testament to his skill if he were to replicate his astonishing form in Diego Maradona’s rather maverick Argentina side.
Elsewhere, Dutch midfielders Wesley Sneijder and Arjen Robben’s exit from the Bernabeu could hardly have gone much better for them. Both line up against each other in the Champions League final during the weekend and both have been vital to each side’s campaign. Robben has been supreme as an ‘inverted’ winger this season (click here) scoring several vital and emphatic goals. Wesley Sneijder, meanwhile, has been instrumental in both Inter’s defensive and forward play earning the man of the match award at Stamford Bridge in March. Although he’s more of a creator than a finisher, he’s a dab hand at free-kicks.
This is to name but a few of the potential candidates. The mainstream favourite to take the honours will continue to be David Villa. He’s justifiably the default choice of the pragmatist given his performance in Euro 2008 (a full analysis of Spain’s chances can be found here).
The Tavern’s Recommended outside chance World Cup Free Bets are …Sergio Aguero (Argentina) in the Top Goalscorer or Top Goalscorer-Top 4 markets @ 60.0 and 14.5 respectively; Nilmar (Brazil) in the same two markets @ 65.0 and 19.5 respectively on Betfair.com.
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