As the clock ticks down on the lead up to the World Cup, speculation abounds.
Who will meet up in the final? Which team will suffer the biggest group stage upset? How far will host Brazil advance?
From an individual standpoint, which players will surface as the standout performers of the tournament? For the Golden Boot Award, given to the World Cup’s leading goal scorer, Betfair lists Argentina’s Lionel Messi as the comfortable favorite with 9.0 odds followed by Brazil’s Neymar (14.5) and Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo (15.0).
Messi has 26 goals in 27 games for FC Barcelona this season with another eight goals in seven Champions League matches.
Ronaldo, Portugal’s all-time leading scorer in international competition, was recently sidelined with a thigh injury but returned to Real Madrid’s lineup on April 23. He has found the back of the net 28 times in 27 games for Real Madrid with another 14 goals in nine Champions League games.
While Messi and Ronaldo have been mainstays in both club and international play for several years, Neymar is in his rookie campaign for FC Barcelona and will be making his World Cup debut in June in front of a home crowd. Neymar has nine goals in 25 club matches this year with four goals in 10 Champions League games but recently suffered a foot contusion that will keep him out of action for up to four weeks. He says he will be good to go for the World Cup however.
Three times in the last nine World Cups a player from the host city has taken home the Golden Boot: Mario Kempes (Argentina, 1978), Salvatore Schillaci (Italy, 1990) and Miroslav Klose (Germany, 2006).
Klose and 2010 Golden Boot winner Thomas Muller of Germany each won the award with only five goals, the least number of goals to win the Golden Boot since 1962.
Each of the three favorites for the Golden Boot face their own challenges. As noted by ESPNFC, Messi has faced recent criticism for his sub-par play for FC Barcelona and will likely play on a wing instead of in center during Cup play. Portugal is not considered to be very strong, meaning Ronaldo could play in fewer games and thus have fewer scoring opportunities. Neymar is only 22 years old and playing in his first World Cup so one never knows how a player will respond to the big stage of the World Cup.
Luis Saurez of Uruguay (16.5) and Sergio Aguero of Argentina (17.0) round out the top five favorites and from there the odds drop off dramatically, with Spain’s Diego Costa coming at next at 25.0.
Even Robin Van Persie of the Netherlands, who led World Cup qualifying with 11 tallies, comes in at 40.0, as does Muller.
Messi, Ronaldo and Neymar are also the top three favorites for the Golden Ball, awarded to the top performer of the tournament by way of voting. You can take a look at previous winners at MSN.