Golden Boot Predictions
June 6, 2014
By Toby Maxtone-Smith
World Cup Predictions
Top World Cup Goalscorer
Soccer is a team game. Most players only do well if the players around them also perform to a certain level. Goalscoring is not a solely individual skill; it relies on good service, sometimes it relies on incompetent defending. Even a market like this one - the Top Goalscorer at the World Cup - is about the team, not just the individual.
Take the 16 World Cups where there has been an outright winner of this market (i.e. no dead heat). Due to the existence of a third-fourth play-off between the loser of the two-semifinals, reaching the semis means that your team will play the maximum number of games. With 32 teams, that's seven games. Only once in these 16 tournaments has the winner of the Golden Boot played for a team that did not reach the semi finals.
That was Gary Lineker of England in 1986.
Of the other 15 winners, three played for the winners (Mario Kempes of Argentina in '78, Paolo Rossi of Italy in '82 and Ronaldo of Brazil in 2002), four have played for the runners-up, and intriguingly eight have played for the Third Placed team. In the last world cup, four players scored five goals to share the award - one from each of the four semi-finalists.
This tells us two things. First, that you have to play for a good team to win this. However tempting it might be to back people like Edin Dzeko of Bosnia and Didier Drogba of Ivory Coast at big prices, these players will probably play five games at the absolute most, probably fewer. This leaves them at a huge disadvantage in this market. Second, that individual goalscorers rarely win World Cups for their country; great teams do. It happens very often that teams with one outstanding individual are downed by more rounded sides in big games: West Germany beating Johan Cruyff's Dutch side in '74 and Italy beating Zinedine Zidane's France in 2006 are good examples.
All this leads me to tip up Fred at 20/1 with Sportsbook.ag. Many see him as Brazil's weakness, but this is certainly not how Luiz Felipe Scolari sees it. Under previous coach Mano Menezes Brazil did not play with a recognised striker, but Scolari has brought in Fluminense man Fred, and it has worked to great effect. He is neither a particularly mobile or skilful player, but he has intelligent positioning and links up well with Brazil's star player, Neymar. Playing in Brazil, Fred will not have the fitness problems many of his European-based competitors will at the end of a long, gruelling season. He was also the top scorer in the Confederations Cup last year with five goals and, given that Brazil look very likely to make the semi-finals, he looks well-placed to get another Golden Boot this year.
Neymar is a 10/1 shot, and he has a better goals-per-game record for his country than Fred, but 10/1 seems a bit short for someone who didn't have the best season at Barcelona. He does, however, thrive off the inclusion of Fred. In a recent 5-0 friendly demolition of South Africa, Neymar scored a hat-trick without playing particularly well. Fred provided all three assists.
The favourite is Lionel Messi who, in the last two years, has shaken off the tag of being a performer at club-level only. However, at 7/1 after an injury-hit season he should be swerved in favour of team-mates Sergio Aguero and Gonzalo Higuain, at 12/1 and 20/1 respectively. While Aguero is arguably the more accomplished of the two players, it is Higuain that I prefer at the prices offered. The Napoli forward scores 0.58 goals per game for Argentina, significantly better than Messi and Aguero. Aguero had injury problems of his own last year, while Higuain got to 20 in all competitions, regularly going along at about a goal every other game.
The best player in the world at the moment, Cristiano Ronaldo, is a 12/1 chance in this section of the betting. While I think Portugal are undervalued at 30/1 to win the tournament, there is a good chance they will not make the semis, in contrast to Brazil and Argentina who look very likely to. There is also the issue of Ronaldo's fitness. He is still not 100% fit, and that could prove crucial. He probably offers better value than Messi, but he would have to drift out to 16/1 for me to get involved.
The same goes for Luis Suarez and Diego Costa at 12/1 and 16/1 respectively. Both have had wonderful seasons but, having carried their team for so long, both have picked up the wear-and-tear kind of injuries typical late in the season.
Of the outsiders, Karim Benzema looks tempting at 25/1. He is another player coming off the season of his life, but France have never quite got the best out of the Real Madrid forward. He frequently struggles against deep defences, and France's group opponents will all play this way.
The best outsider bet is 66/1 shot Alexis Sanchez. Yes - I know Chile are not likely to make it to the semi-finals, but at that price you just can't stay away. Sanchez scored 19 goals in the league for Barcelona this season, and that for a team where he is far from the main man. For Chile he calls the shots. He is the focal point of their attack and this has resulted in him notching up eight goals in his last 11 internationals.
Fred to be Top Goalscorer at 20/1
Gonzalo Higuain to be Top Goalscorer at 20/1
Alexis Sanchez to be Top Goalscorer at 66/1
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