He’s the headliner of the World Cup, grabbing the glory and filling the highlight reels. He sells jerseys, he sells tickets, and every kid wants to be him. His picture is on one million posters and 100 million TV sets. He’s the top scorer, that fabled figure who is half-myth, half-superman, and 100 percent legend. Here are some of the top scorers of past World Cups, and some of the men who will be trying to emulate them this summer.
The One-Man Team
The Current King: Hristo Stoitchkov, Bulgaria (USA 1994)
Back in 1994, Bulgaria was hardly a world power on the footballing stage. They had qualified for just one of the four previous World Cups, and were largely devoid of world-class players. They did however, have one star, a man by the name of Hristo Stoitchkov, a member of Johan Cruijff’s “Dream Team” at Barcelona, and at the 1994 World Cup, He put his country on his back and carried them to the semifinals. He scored three times in the group stage, and then again in every game of the knockout stages, including a heartbreaking 2-1 loss to Italy with the final in sight. For his efforts, he shared the title of Golden Boot winner with Oleg Salenko of Russia.
Pretender to the Crown: Marek Hamšík, Slovakia
Only 22, Hamšík is already his country’s captain and talisman, and their ninth highest scorer of all-time, to boot. Although they separated politically from Czechoslovakia in 1993, this is the first time the Slovaks have qualified for the World Cup, and they’ll be looking to young Hamšík to help establish a relatively new country’s World Cup pedigree.
The Current King: Eusébio, Portugal (England 1966)
Before Eusébio, there were no true world class African players. But the “Black Pearl” changed that, and Eusébio’s performances at the 1966 World Cup remain an integral part of his legend. In England, Eusébio scored nine goals, including at least one in every match after the group stage. Portugal lost to hosts and Eventual winners England in the semifinals, but still managed to beat the Soviets 2-1 to take home third place.
Pretender to the Crown: Landon Donovan, USA
The United States is one of the last great frontiers for football, and has yet to produce a player truly capable of standing toe to toe with the big guns of Europe and South America. Landon Donovan, however, is arguably the best player the USA has ever produced, and his brief loan stint with Everton this winter earned him rave reviews and instant cult status with the Goodison faithful. With a relatively comfortable World Cup draw, he’ll be given every chance to shine this summer, and maybe, help shine a brighter light on American soccer.
The Home Turf Hero
The Current King: Salvatore Schillaci, Italy (Italy 1990)
Although his ecstatic face became, for many, the lasting image of Italia 90, “Toto” Schillachi didn’t even make his Azzuri debut until he was subbed into Italy’s first group match. Despite this, he went on to score six goals, and became just the second player to win the World Cup golden boot on home soil. Amazingly, he would only score one more international goal for Italy, but this flash in the pan lit up his whole country for a month, and etched his name into the record books.
Pretender to the Crown: Didier Drogba, Ivory Coast
The tournament may be hosted in South Africa, but it’s swiftly becoming a seminal moment for all of African football, and if an African player is to take home the Golden Boot, it will probably be Didier Drogba. Although a controversial and divisive figure on and off the pitch, the Ivory Coast captain is a powerful striker with an impressive goal scoring record.
The Golden Pairing
The Current Kings: Ronaldo and Rivaldo, Brazil (Korea/Japan 2002)
Ronaldo and Rivaldo came into the 2002 World Cup as arguably the most talented attacking pair in the world. At least one half of the duo scored in every single one of Brazil’s World Cup matches, and they both netted on seven separate occasions, finishing as first and joint second highest scorers, respectively, while leading their country to its fifth World Cup title. Fittingly, both were named to the team of the tournament, with Ronaldo also ending up with the Silver Ball and World Player of The Year honors.
Pretenders to the Crown: Fernando Torres and David Villa, Spain
Fresh off of their historic Euro 2008 win, where Villa was top scorer, there is no more in-form and dangerous pair of forwards in the world. Both are technically gifted natural finishers, and consistently put up excellent numbers. Like Brazil in 2002, Villa and Torres have an absurdly talented squad supporting them, and are seen by many as clear favorites to win the tournament. If they are to do so, they would do well to learn from the unselfishly brilliant play of their Brazilian predecessors.
Keith Hickey is a contributing writer for The Yanks Are Coming. He can be reached at USArsnl@gmail.com.