The Golden Boot Battle: Ranking Every World Cup Top Scorer
The World Cup's Golden Boot award is arguably the most cherished scoring award that any player can covet in football, an honour bestowed upon those who have thrived in front of goal on the biggest stage of all.
Also called the "Golden Shoe," the award is given to the top scorer of each World Cup, and some of the most legendary names in the sport have been etched onto its precious metal.
Up until 1998, FIFA allowed numerous winners to be named if they finished with an identical goal tally, since which assists and fewest minutes played have become deciding factors in the case of a tie.
Winning the Golden Boot doesn't necessarily equate to tournament success, as we'll debate ahead, but firing one's team further in the competition certainly helps in these rankings of the finest World Cup top scorers ever.
Down the years, goals have become fewer in number as more and more national teams play defensively, but quantity and quality of the goals scored also factor into our countdown of these Golden Boot victors.
19. United States 1994: Numerous
Winners: Oleg Salenko (Russia) and Hristo Stoichkov (Bulgaria)
Oleg Salenko is the only player ever to win a World Cup Golden Boot award playing for a team which was eliminated at the group stage.
What makes the feat even more remarkable is that these six goals would be the only international goals of the Russian's career.
Salenko tied with Hristo Stoichkov in the scoring charts, with the latter's finishing boasting a bigger impact on the road to Bulgaria taking fourth place in 1994.
This would be the last World Cup in which there could be multiple Golden Boot winners, after which the rules were changed so that assists and the amounts of minutes played would help determine outright champions.
Salenko scored five of his six goals in a single group game against Cameroon, whereas Stoichkov shared his bounty against Greece and Argentina in the group stage before bagging against Mexico, Germany and Italy later on.
18. Brazil 1950: Ademir, Brazil
After the 12-year break from competition caused by World War II, the World Cup's Golden Boot picked up where it had left off in 1938: It was awarded to a Brazilian.
This time it was Ademir who took home the spoils, ramming home on eight occasions, although there was some controversy over the legitimacy of one of his goals during the 6-1 win over Spain in the final round.
Playing a World Cup on home soil, the ex-Vasco da Gama striker failed to score in three of Brazil's six games as they finished runners-up to Uruguay, who won the competition for the second time.
Alongside Zizinho and Jair, Ademir was the central focus of a mighty Selecao front three at this World Cup, but his Golden Boot may never have come were it not for a four-goal haul in the 7-1 mauling of Sweden.
17. Germany 2006: Miroslav Klose, Germany
At 36 years of age, Miroslav Klose hasn't got a lot of time left to break Ronaldo's 15-goal World Cup haul, as he currently sits on 14 and in need of a couple more before he can take the all-time scoring crown.
However, the humble Lazio forward will look upon his 2006 Golden Boot, won in a home competition, as a peak in his career, though he followed up his five goals in Germany with another four in South Africa 2010.
That being said, Klose suffers in our rankings due to the fact that four of his five strikes came in the group stage and so did not impact Germany's run to the semi-finals as much as others have on our list.
Klose netted the 1-1 equaliser against Argentina that allowed Germany to win on penalties and take their spot opposite winners Italy in the semi, but it was insufficient in crafting a story of superstar standards.
16. Mexico 1986: Gary Lineker, England
No English forward has looked like claiming top-scorer certification at a World Cup since Gary Lineker, whose brightest hour came at Mexico 1986.
Diego Maradona's Argentina had the last laugh over the Three Lions by knocking England out at the quarter-final stage before going on to clinch the 1986 title, as he and Lineker scored all three goals in a 2-1 win for the South Americans.
But Lineker could take some solace in his exploits in front of goal despite the exit. His biggest achievement came in the form of a hat-trick en route to a 3-0 group-stage win against Poland, followed up by a brace against Paraguay in their 3-0 round-of-16 demolition.
15. South Africa 2010: Thomas Mueller, Germany
Thomas Mueller was the first beneficiary of the tie-break rule in a World Cup Golden Boot race, winning ahead of David Villa, Wesley Sneijder and Diego Forlan thanks to a superior assist count (3).
Each of those players finished with five goals apiece, and the fact that Muller was just 20 years of age at the time makes his award all the more incredible.
And even at that age, the Bayern Munich product had the courage to push four of his five goals past the opposition after the group phase had come to a close.
Mueller bagged two against England in their 4-1 round-of-16 defeat, added another in the 4-0 routing of Argentina in the quarter-final and netted his last, the opener, in the third-place playoff win over Uruguay.
14. Italy 1934: Oldrich Nejedly, Czechoslovakia
Oldrich Nejedly is unique in our countdown in that his award as the clear top scorer of the 1934 World Cup was not made official until 2006, 72 years after the Czechoslovakian had netted the goals that took his team to the final.
Up until then, he was tied with Angelo Schiavio of Italy and Edmund Conen of German on four goals apiece, but a FIFA review awarded Nejedly a fifth that had previously been considered controversial, landing him the Golden Boot outright.
The 1934 tournament adopted a far different format to the group style four years earlier, and it took Czechoslovakia just three games to reach the final against the hosting Azzurri.
However, after grabbing a hat-trick in the semi-final against Germany, Nejedly was unable to make the difference at the final hurdle, finishing his campaign with five goals from four matches.
13. Chile 1962: Numerous
Winners: Florian Albert (Hungary), Valentin Ivanov (Soviet Union), Garrincha (Brazil), Vava (Brazil), Drazan Jerkovic (Yugoslavia), Leonel Sanchez (Chile)
To this day, the 1962 World Cup is responsible for producing the lowest-scoring Golden Boot winner(s) in tournament history, but at least there were six of them to make up for the disappointment.
Of all those listed above, however, it's perhaps Brazilian legend Garrincha who will be most fondly remembered for his heroics that year. He was famously heralded for being born with crooked legs but nevertheless becoming one of the greatest talents his nation has ever produced.
He and fellow joint-top scorer Vava can also claim precedence here due to the fact that their combined eight goals helped propel the Selecao to the World Cup itself.
Each player scored two goals in the 4-2 semi-final win over Chile before Vava rounded off his contest with another in the 3-1 final triumph against Czechoslovakia.
12. Uruguay 1930: Guillermo Stabile, Argentina
Guillermo Stabile couldn't have hoped for his international career to start in brighter fashion than by being the top scorer at the very first World Cup in Uruguay, 1930.
After missing Argentina's first Group 1 fixture through injury, the then-25-year-old marked a debut 6-3 win over Mexico with a hat-trick which, up until 2006, was considered the first World Cup hat-trick ever.
That record was changed in 2006, however, because Bert Patenaude of the United States had scored a hat-trick of his own against Paraguay two days earlier, but one of those finishes was up until then attributed to teammate Tom Florie.
Nevertheless, Stabile's scoring would force Argentina through to a final against hosts Uruguay, which they ultimately lost 4-2, though the former Huracan forward once again got on the scoresheet.
Scoring eight goals in four matches, Stabile averaged two goals per game and didn't fail to score in any of his outings.
One might argue that Argentina always had a good chance of producing a high-scoring run in 1930 due to the tournament being in their native South America and their having made the 1928 Summer Olympics final two years prior, but Stabile's World Cup mark is nevertheless a thing of legend.
11. France 1998: Davor Suker, Croatia
For the sixth tournament in succession, the World Cup's top scorer finished the competition with six goals to his name. This time it was Croatia's Davor Suker who excelled above the rest.
Having left Yugoslavia not too many years prior to the French tournament, 1998 was Croatia's first World Cup as its own team, and Suker's success helped the side take the tremendous achievement of third place.
Argentina were the only group opponents against whom Suker was unable to find the net, but such a lapse was forgiven when he put a 1-0 winner past Romania in the round of 16 and slotted the third past Germany in the Croatians' 3-0 quarter-final romp.
Eventual winners France knocked Croatia out in the semi-finals with a 2-1 result, but Suker scored again in that match. The Netherlands were the last side to feel his sting, surrendering a 35th-minute decider to the former Real Madrid, Sevilla and Arsenal man as they lost 2-1 in the third-place playoff.
10. France 1938: Leonidas da Silva, Brazil
Leonidas da Silva had a bounty of Hungarian stars on his tail for the Golden Boot in 1938, with Gyorgy Sarosi and Gyula Zsengeller each finishing on five goals apiece.
At the time, the Brazilian ended his tournament with eight goals, but a FIFA panel reduced that figure to seven upon a 2006 review, still enough to see him finish as top scorer.
The tally might have risen further, too, were it not for Adhemar Pimenta's decision to rest his forward for the semi-final against Italy, which was where the Selecao's 1938 tournament ended.
Four of Leonidas' "eight" came in the first-round 6-5 extra-time win over Poland, who were making their international debut at the time.
It was the Brazilian's first here that was scratched from record, and stories tell that the official third goal was scored without Leonidas wearing his right boot, which is alleged to have torn in the buildup.
Leonidas' omission from the semi-final wasn't a matter of his doing, however, and his goals scored up until that point nevertheless allowed Brazil to claim third place, with each and every one of his recorded scores proving important to their run.
9. South Korea/Japan 2002: Ronaldo, Brazil
As the top overall goalscorer in World Cup history, it's only right that Ronaldo should also have claimed a Golden Boot in his time as Brazil's leading man.
Eight of his 15 finishes came in the 2002 competition, where hosting duties were shared between Japan and South Korea, but the tally did stand at just seven until a successful lobby against an awarded own goal raised the number to eight.
With his striking ability leading their attack, the Selecao were unstoppable en route to winning that year's highest honour, but Oliver Kahn was named player of the tournament, preventing Ronaldo from joining countryman Garrincha in claiming the elusive trophy trio.
What's most admirable about Ronaldo's achievement in this side was that even though the scoring very much relied upon a pack mentality—Rivaldo finished with just three goals fewer—"Fenomeno" still managed to claim his place as the centrepiece among scoring giants.
Germany fell victim to the Selecao superstar in the final, as Ronaldo scored twice to lead his side to a 2-0 result, bettering the 1-0 winner he had scored against Turkey in the semi-finals.
8. Mexico 1970: Gerd Mueller, Germany
Germany's former all-time leading top scorer, Gerd Mueller, recently saw his national team record broken by Miroslav Klose, who scored the 69th goal of his international career last week against Armenia.
However, that isn't to put down the stellar achievements of the ex-West Germany marvel, whose 10-goal haul at the 1970 World Cup was unfortunate not to take the European giants all the way to that year's title.
Mueller's prolific habits were evident irrespective of occasion during his national team career, and it's unfortunate that his added-time brace against Italy in the semi-finals wasn't enough to produce something better than a 4-3 defeat.
Mueller's influence here was especially impactful when one considers he netted the second against Morocco to finish off a 2-1 comeback before then grabbing a hat-trick in the 3-1 victory over Peru, displaying his knack for helping the team out in clutch scenarios.
7. Sweden 1958: Just Fontaine, France
No player has ever scored more goals in a single World Cup tournament than France's Just Fontaine, whose 1958 tally of 13 still stands as the highest recorded to this day.
But alas, even such a magnificent tally was once again not enough to give Les Bleus their title, and France had to settle for third place despite Fontaine's efforts.
Finishing seven goals clear of his nearest scoring contenders Pele and Helmut Rahn, the French forward scored in all six of the games in which he featured, including four against the West Germans during France's 6-3 win in the third-place playoff.
France's progress from the group stage was stunted by a loss to Yugoslavia, and they were eventually undone by Brazil in the quarter-finals, showing that as a team this outfit was far from perfect.
However, Fontaine maintained his standards from start to finish, keeping up his end of the bargain even if his teammates were unable to do the same.
6. West Germany 1974: Grzegorz Lato, Poland
The only Pole ever to claim a World Cup Golden Boot award, Grzegorz Lato holds a special place in his national team's history, despite only being able to bring them a bronze medal in 1974.
And it was in '74 that the Malbork-born attacker reached heights which he never would again in his international career, scoring seven goals in seven games at that summer's World Cup.
The crowning achievement of this tournament will of course be Lato's 76th-minute winner in the third-place playoff against Brazil, where Poland triumphed 1-0.
However, Lato also rose to score the decisive winner in Poland's 2-1 defeat of Yugoslavia at the second group stage, not to mention bagging two against Argentina in a first-round 3-2 victory.
5. Switzerland 1954: Sandor Kocsis, Hungary
With Hungary at the height of their powers in 1954, the Golden Team were hot favourites to take home the title from Switzerland.
In the end, a runners-up finish was all that a Ferenc Puskas-led team could muster, but Sandor Kocsis could at least take some silverware of his own with the Golden Boot award.
It was also in this tournament that Kocsis became the first player ever to score two hat-tricks in a World Cup, three goals in a 9-0 win over South Korea and another four in the 8-3 triumph over West Germany, both in the group stage.
It was after the first round that Kocsis' importance really came to the fore, however, and with Puskas missing for the quarter-finals and semi-finals with an ankle fracture, his teammate continued to fill Hungary's scoring quota.
Kocsis would notch his side's second and last goals in the 4-2 win over Brazil before then scoring twice in added time to give Hungary a crucial 4-2 win over holders Uruguay, booking the Mighty Magyars their place opposite West Germany in the final.
Kocsis couldn't recreate the same heroics as he had in the group stage, as Hungary lost 3-2, but the attacker's share of success both in a team and individual capacity was tremendous.
4. England 1966: Eusebio, Portugal
Eusebio's name is the stuff of legend not just in his native Portugal but in football folklore, and it was at the 1966 World Cup that he recorded his most memorable international output.
It was in England where "The Black Panther" helped his nation to a third-place finish, scoring nine goals in the tournament after winning the Ballon d'Or in 1965.
Four of those finishes came in a fixture against North Korea, but the Benfica figure's finishing quality was ever-present in the competition as Portugal took down Hungary, Brazil and Bulgaria before being ousted by eventual champions England.
Eusebio netted 12 goals in 12 international appearances during '66. He was very much at the height of his powers, and the World Cup tournament of that year sits as a crowning achievement in the now-departed icon's illustrious career.
3. Argentina 1978: Mario Kempes, Argentina
In 1978, Argentina's Mario Kempes became the first player to ever win the Golden Boot award outright—shared with no one else—as part of a side that also clinched the tournament crown.
The thing that's so remarkable about Kempes' tale of that year is that while his tally of six is far from the highest ever seen in the competition, he scored at crucial times when his nation needed him most.
It took "El Matador" four games to find the back of the net, scoring a brace in the 2-0 win over Peru during the second group stage. But once he had a taste of scoring, the striker couldn't stop.
Following a 0-0 draw again Brazil, Kempes would then bag another two in a 6-0 win over Peru, but his most vital contribution came in the shape of yet another brace, this time in the final against the Netherlands.
Kempes put the opener past Ubaldo Fillol, and after things went to extra time at 1-1, he would net again to give Argentina a 2-1 lead; they would eventually earn the title by a 3-1 scoreline.
2. Spain 1982: Paolo Rossi, Italy
Just as Mario Kempes did four years earlier, Paolo Rossi claimed both the World Cup title and its outright Golden Boot award in 1982.
And Rossi's importance in this Azzurri unit was validated at the final, where he opened the scoring on the 57th minute of his side's 3-1 win over West Germany in Madrid.
Rossi is also the most recent player to have won not only the tournament but both the Golden Boot and Golden Ball awards—given to the player of the tournament—becoming just the third player ever to do so after Kempes and Garrincha (although Garrincha tied with several others as top scorer in 1962).
Rossi's scoring exploits didn't spark into life until the latter stages of the 1982 World Cup, but if his goal in the final didn't prove his mettle, then a hat-trick in the 3-2 win over Brazil and brace in the 2-0 semi-final victory against Poland certainly did.
1. Italy 1990: Salvatore Schillaci, Italy
Salvatore Schillaci's tale in 1990 is the kinds of rags-to-riches story every player dreams of coming into a World Cup. Before the 1990 competition "Toto" had made just one international appearance, but he soon became a staple in the Italy side, eventually finishing with a Golden Boot-worthy six goals.
The former Messina, Juventus and Inter striker came on as a substitute to net the 78th-minute winner in Italy's 1-0 opening win over Austria, and his impact against Czechoslovakia later in Group A was similar, netting the first goal inside nine minutes.
This trend would continue in the next phases of the tournament, and while the hosting Azzurri didn't score masses of goals, Schillaci also opened the scoring in the 2-0 round-of-16 win over Uruguay and provided the sole finish in Italy's quarter-final triumph against the Republic of Ireland.
Initiative at his side, Schillaci scored first against Argentina, but the home team would eventually lose their first and only match of the World Cup on penalties.
However, third-place was secured thanks to the forward's 86th-minute penalty winner versus England, as Italy prevailed 2-1. A small consolation for the Azzurri, but a remarkable individual accomplishment for Schillaci.