The World Cup is just a day away, and with World Cup Eve here, we take one more look at the tournament.
We’ve dissected the team events just about as much as possible, so we should take a look at the event with an individual focus.
When we discuss the Golden Boot and Golden Ball awards, often a prerequisite is playing more games, since it gives the players more games to score goals as well as a bigger stage to prove their dominance on the field.
First we’ll run down the list of outside contenders who ultimately may not have the best squad or best situation to pull out the awards, and then the list of players who are favorites and will have a great chance to pick up trophies of their own.
The Golden Boot is given to the player who scores the most goals across the entire tournament. The record-holder is France’s Just Fontaine, who scored 13 goals in the 1958 World Cup in Sweden. Nobody has come close to toppling that, with Gerd Müller in second with 10 at the 1974 West German World Cup.
Hulk – The Brazilian forward is one of the best attackers on one of the best attacking teams in the World Cup, but with so many options for Luis Felipe Scolari up front, like Neymar, Fred, and Jo, the goals will be spread around, and nobody is going to upstage Neymar this summer (more on that later).
Miroslav Klose – The German very well may set the record for most career World Cup goals, needing one to tie and two to lead. However, in a German squad dominated by world-class midfielders, it will be difficult for Klose to be the focus of Germany’s attack enough to pick up the Golden Boot. Germany’s goals will likely be spread across the squad, meaning we may not see one single German to dominate the discussion, no matter how far they go.
Karim Benzema – With Franck Ribery down and out, Karim Benzema is now the biggest name in France’s squad. The Real Madrid winger, however, has a number of things against him as he looks to contend for individual honors. France is a squad that is difficult to figure out. Likely they will advance from their group, but we saw what happened four years ago, and for Benzema to pick up the Golden Ball, he must not only outshine strike partner Olivier Giroud, but also make sure his country doesn’t yet again flop.
Cristiano Ronaldo – Portugal is good, but for the Ballon d’Or winner to pull out a Golden Boot performance, his team will have to help him out. Portugal is the #4 ranked team in the world according to FIFA, but few have them advancing far enough for Ronaldo to put together the games required to win the award. The clear leader of Portugal, the team will need to look more creative than they did in their recent friendlies for Ronaldo to have a shot.
Neymar – Brazil is the host, and Neymar is the star. It doesn’t get much better than that. The 22-year-old likely won’t be upstaged, and barring a shocking early exit, Neymar will prove – like he did in the Confederations Cup – that he is one of the world’s best. The kid thrives under pressure, and he’ll have the country on his shoulders the next month.
Lionel Messi – Argentina’s superstar has his best chance yet to add international success to his legendary club resume. As the best player on one of the best teams, his chances for the Golden Boot are obvious.
Mario Balotelli – The Italians aren’t one of the favorites, but Cesare Prandelli’s bunch are serious contenders to make the semifinals, and if Balotelli can leave his volatile personality back in Italy, he has plenty of service to bag a bunch of goals.
Luis Suarez – Uruguay’s on-fire striker is primed to continue his incredible Premier League goal-scoring tally at the World Cup. They are in a difficult group and may not be 100%, and those could ultimately destroy his chances, but it’s impossible to look past Suarez’s form at the end of the Premier League season.
The Golden Ball is given to the best player in the tournament. Along with the players listed above, who all have legitimate shots to pick up the award if their teams can go along with it, here are a few more names who may not be goalscoring threats, but are certainly players who could shine on the big stage.
Angel Di Maria – The 26-year-old winger proved a wealth of doubters wrong at Real Madrid this season, but Di Maria by trade is not a player who will take the star role, and on an Argentina team already bursting at the seams with stars, Di Maria has an outside shot if he upstages his teammates but likely will take a back seat.
Eden Hazard – The best player on a talent-stocked Belgium squad, it remains to be seen how that group will perform with so many expecting them to perform well. If they make to the semifinals, Hazard will definitely be in the discussion for this award, but unfortunately their path is a tough one for such an inexperienced group.
Andrea Pirlo – While Mario Balotelli will look to rack up the goals, Pirlo is in charge of leading the creative unit for Italy. Pirlo’s been a part of both ends of the spectrum of World Cup, winning in 2006 and flopping out of the group stage in 2010, so he’s seen it all. The beard is feared, but there are players likely to upstage Pirlo in Brazil.
Sergio Aguero – Should Sergio Aguero win the Golden Ball, that means something has gone horribly wrong for someone else. Either Messi had a down tournament and questions will arise about his legacy with the national team, or Messi had a great tournament and Aguero bested it, with Argentina demolishing the field. Aguero is key to Argentina getting over the hump.
Andres Iniesta – The maestro of Spain’s midfield, he won a World Cup last time out in South Africa but saw none of his teammates come in the top-two in Golden Ball voting. This time around, if Spain lives up to their own expectations, it’s a good bet Iniesta’s in the thick of things.
Mario Götze – Speaking of maestros, Götze is a master on the ball for Germany. In a squad bursting with talent, it’s highly possible the 22-year-old shows the universe what his wealth of talent can bring the world of soccer.