In recent World Cups, considerable interest has been given to its three traditional awards, given out to the players who make a profound mark on the tournament. Many of the winners of the Golden Boot (top scorer) and Golden Ball (best player) of the previous tournaments all read as legends of the game; from the raw goalscoring prowess of Ronaldo and Gerd Muller to the class of Zinedine Zidane and Diego Maradona. 2018’s World Cup in Russia will be no different in seeking a new home for these two titles, and BetXChange poses this preview to identify the most promising candidates for each of these categories. Our focus on forwards in this preview is deliberate; apart from goalkeeper Oliver Kahn (2002), central midfielders Bobby Charlton (1966), Didi (1958), and defender Nasazzi (1930), the other 16 awards of the Golden Ball have been won by either forwards or attacking midfielders.
Who will win the Golden Boot and Golden Ball
Lionel Messi (8.75 – Golden Boot favourite*, 7.00 – Golden Ball 2nd favourite*)
Why he’s a great pick: Apart from the title of the greatest football player in the world, Messi has an excellent international scoring record. His ability to score all kinds of goals, in various situations against virtually any opponent is well documented. The only thing lacking for the Golden Ball winner of the 2014 World Cup was the trophy itself, to go along with his 4 goals. He’s coming off yet another 40 goal season, too.
Why he isn’t: Argentina don’t arrive in Russia under a cloud of optimism; there’s a genuine sense that once again, their key talisman will need to carry his nation far more than they support him if they’re to progress deep into the competition. Group E is deceptively competitive, with Croatia and Nigeria having enough talent to make it difficult for Argentina to win against them. Messi’s recent form internationally has also been lacking; he has scored 7 goals across 8 matches since 2017, but 6 of those goals were scored in 2 matches, one being the recent friendly against hapless Haiti.
Our Prediction: Argentina are a side with great history in the World Cup, but unless Messi overcompensates, it’s hard to see them progressing past the quarterfinals, and that’s if they manage to win their group. Messi will score goals, but he’ll likely need to make it all the way to the final to be in contention for either the Golden Boot and Golden Ball.
Cristiano Ronaldo (13.25 – Golden Boot*, 12.75 – Golden Ball*)
Why he’s a great pick: Fresh off yet another Champions League title, the World Cup has intriguing motivation for the international superstar; it’s the only major trophy he’s yet to win in a career spanning a myriad of titles for both the individual and his teams. Ronaldo once again amassed over 40 goals for Real Madrid last season, and he was massively productive in qualifying for 2018, scoring 15 goals. Then there’s the emotional sentiment that surrounded his nation’s EURO 2016 triumph, where Portugal surprised many to win the trophy. Ronaldo is surrounded by a more talented and better balanced squad this time, more capable of improving considerably on their poor 2014 showing and offering better supply to their captain for him to capitalize on his excellent finishing.
Why he isn’t: Portugal (and Ronaldo)’s track record in World Cups doesn’t make for good reading. Only 2006 stands in recent memory as a positive performance, so there’s little precedent to suggest the greater collective of talent in the squad will make some new history. Ronaldo has scored just 3 goals across his 13 matches in 3 World Cups (2006, 2010, 2014), which also makes for dismal reading.
Our Prediction: Portugal have a young and exciting team at 2018, blended with veterans, like Ronaldo, who will no doubt make a solid impression in navigating the group stage and pushing past Uruguay (most likely) in the round of 16. But from there, a EURO 2016 final rematch with France will likely leave CR7 with too few matches to have made an impression on the Golden Boot / Ball race.
Neymar (9.75 – Golden Boot 2nd favourite*, 6.75 – Golden Ball favourite*)
Why he’s a great pick: Neymar’s first season in France was predictably prolific, and the Brazilian’s talent in both scoring and creating was well on display in a title winning season. Neymar’s international scoring record is a good one (including 4 goals in 5 matches at the last World Cup, and the 2018 squad features the mouthwatering prospect of link-ups with Coutinho, Firmino, Gabriel Jesus and Douglas Costa to give the Brazilian superstar excellent goalscoring support.
Why he isn’t: Neymar only recently made a return from a three month injury (albeit a goalscoring one) so it’s unclear how long it will take him to recover back to full match fitness. It’s also unclear which Brazil will land in Russia; the squad looks full of talent and highly capable of going all the way, but the same has been said before.
Our Prediction: Brazil’s great form and balanced squad gives them a very good chance of making a deep run in the competition, and Neymar will likely be both a goalscoring and creative contributor to this. Neymar has a sublime capacity for spectacular goals of all kinds, further highlighting the notoriety he’ll create to foster support for a Golden Ball award. Brazil may however fall at the semifinal hurdle again, and that may just cost Neymar any personal accolades we expect.
Golden Boot Wildcards
Timo Werner (13.75 – Golden Boot*, 32.00 – Golden Ball*)
Why he’s a great pick: The defending champions have a fairly navigable group, but that’s hardly consequential for a team favoured to beat anyone in its path. Werner occupies an intriguing place in the squad as the most in-form, obvious choice to lead the line, start all matches, and become the main focal point of the creative efforts behind him. This isn’t to be disingenuous to teammates Thomas Muller and Marco Reus, but it’s clear that the best role for him is a classic striking role, and he may get every opportunity to score goals en route to helping Germany defend their crown.
Why he isn’t: Germany are good enough to get goals from everywhere! They may not need Werner’s goals to drive a good tournament.
Our Prediction: If Werner starts in the favoured 4231 shape and links well with the likes of Muller, Draxler and either Reus or Ozil behind him, it’s hard to conceive him not scoring. He is unlikely to be Golden Ball material, but his price, and Germany’s expected run to the final makes him a very intriguing shout and our outside choice for the Golden Boot.
Antoine Griezmann (11.25 – Golden Boot*, 14.00 – Golden Ball*)
Why he’s a great pick: Griezmann is entering the peak of his professional career, and has quietly established himself as the certain starter in a frontline where prodigious talents like Dembele, Mbappe and Lemar are available for selection. His recent international form is solid, and France are expected to comfortably navigate their group, and be well capable of dealing with any side they face in the knockout rounds. Arguably the only side who can boast similar depth to the heavily favoured Germans, Griezmann should benefit from as many games as are available to score some goals.
Why he isn’t: Of minor concern is that apart from Nabil Fekir, France arguably lack creativity behind the frontline. But the frontline will typically be expected to handle that. Much like Germany, Griezmann has other teammates, particularly Mbappe, who could rival him in the goalscoring charts.
Our Prediction: France is arguably the side best placed to face and beat the Germans in a final, and Griezmann would be a massive part of this. The manner in which goals are shared will likely not make him a better candidate for the Golden Boot than his teammate Mbappe, but if France do in fact lift football’s greatest prize on the 15th July, Griezmann would have likely been a critical part of the story and a strong bet for the Golden Ball.
Edinson Cavani (23.00 – Golden Boot*) and Luis Suarez (23.00 – Golden Boot*)
Why they’re a great pick: In 2014, Uruguay failed to match the dizzy heights of their semifinal run in 2010, but it doesn’t mean they lack for opportunity. Cavani and Suarez’s presence on this list is purely based on their immense ability to accumulate goals of all kinds where both displayed this for their large European employers once again in the past season. Both are in good form internationally once again, and both are expected to share the starting berth in what has been described as an easy group for them to navigate, giving them a chance to pick up a lot of goals in the race early on. They’ll fancy their chances against Portugal (potentially) in the Round of 16 too.
Why they aren’t: Uruguay won’t have the squad to handle a deep run in the tournament; and the magic of Diego Forlan is unlikely to find itself in a new vessel. Cavani and Suarez will need to score most of their Golden Boot goals in generous quantity early on.
Our Prediction: Much depends on that first match against Egypt; if Uruguay make a solid starting impression, it’s likely that their opportunity to run riot in Group A will take full force, with Cavani and Suarez sharing in the spoils. But they’ll likely fall in the Round of 16, and both players will be left short of the matches needed to win the scoring accolade.
* Please note – odds mentioned above are subject to change, so always check the latest published odds to be fully certain before betting.
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