Opening games at any major tournament can often be subdued affairs but that certainly wasn’t the case at this summer’s World Cup. Host nation Russia were under pressure, having failed to win a competitive match since 2015, but they brushed aside a weak Saudi Arabian unit with an impressive 5-0 scoreline.
The game was particularly notable for a double strike by Russian midfielder Denis Cheryshev who produced an early contender for goal of the tournament in second-half injury time. The former Real Madrid winger also made a significant move in what can often be the most lucrative outright market of them all.
Neymar was the pre-tournament favourite to win the Golden Boot, just ahead of Lionel Messi, and that’s no great surprise. His Brazilian side are 4/1 favourites in Paddy Power’s World Cup outright winner market and the obvious option for many is to pick a striker whose team are likely to go deep into the tournament.
Neymar is just feeling his way back into the side following injury but his scoring credentials make him a worthy favourite here. In 85 full internationals, the PSG man has found the net 55 times and if Brazil are going to take the trophy, their key striker will play a huge part in that success. However, if we look back through recent World Cup history, the Golden Boot trophy hasn’t always been claimed by the obvious candidates.
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Very few pundits would have expected Colombian midfielder James Rodriguez to finish Brazil 2014 as the tournament’s leading goalscorer. Prior to the competition, the Monaco player had been widely tipped for a move to the English Premier League but six goals in five matches saw his price tag increase to the point where only Real Madrid could afford him.
James also proved that the Golden Boot winner doesn’t need to go deep into the tournament as his Colombian side were knocked out at the quarter-final stages. A similar scenario can be found back in 1986 when Gary Lineker finished as tournament top scorer in Mexico despite his England team not making it beyond the last eight.
Unlike James Rodriguez, Lineker was an out-and-out centre-forward but his success backs up the theory that the Golden Boot winner isn’t always the most obvious. At Italia 90, Salvatore Schillaci emerged from the fringes of the Italian squad to take the award and while subsequent winners have included more obvious candidates such as Miroslav Klose and Ronaldo, those are interesting names.
Back to the Present
Despite his quickfire double, few would expect Denis Cheryshev to continue his scoring form and pick up the Golden Boot at Russia 2018. After all, the 27-year-old has now played twelve times for his country and those were his first international goals.
However, as we take that look back through World Cup history, there are suggestions that the top goalscorer may come from an unlikely source. Perhaps attacking midfielders including the England pair of Dele Alli and Raheem Sterling, plus Chelsea’s Eden Hazard, who have all enjoyed prolific periods for their club sides, may come through.
Or maybe a recognised striker such as Robert Lewandowski, whose Poland team isn’t expected to last beyond the quarterfinals, may take the accolade. It’s a tough one to call but maybe the high-scoring start to the tournament may, at least, lead us to expect a host of goals in Russia.