The most objective statement in professional football is that goals win games — that’s always been the old adage, right? An elite number nine can be the difference between a side writing their names in the history books or coming up second fiddle, and that is no truer than in the case of the World Cup. Football’s most prestigious tournament, this year’s edition in Qatar has certainly felt unique. Through its barrage of added time and the first-ever winter date, arriving between the domestic season in Europe, there have been plenty of talking points to unpack ahead of the final but most are pertaining to goals.
That semantic field of goalscoring characteristics has defined almost every World Cup winning team. Where would England be without Harry Kane? Or how far could Spain have gone if they had started Alvaro Morata? As we look at the list of top scorers though, you wonder if anyone will come close to the record set by Germany’s Miroslav Klose.
Even as we approach this year’s final, and Kylian Mbappe sits on nine goals, and those checking on the Argentina v France betting want to see all the stats, with the Frenchman already exceeding the likes of Thierry Henry and Zinedine Zidane, will he ever get near the 16 goals converted by Klose across a 13-year international career?
As we brace ourselves for the showpiece at the Lusail Stadium, let’s have a look at who has come closest to the most goals at the World Cup aside from the prolific German. Read on to find out more.
Ronaldo – 15 goals
Despite his last World Cup campaign for Brazil tainted by injuries, Ronaldo O Fenômeno, the original R9, was perhaps one of the greatest strikers of all time. Having arrived on the scene as a talented teenager, he took Brazil to the final of the 1998 World Cup, but health conditions which should have really ruled him out of the game ruined his performance, as France cruised to victory on home soil.
Still, Ronaldo exacted revenge four years later, when he won the Golden Boot at the 2002 World Cup, earning Brazil a fifth star above their crest with eight goals, including a brace in the final. By the time 2006 rolled around he was hampered by consistent injuries, but still scored three goals before Brazil went out at the quarter-finals.
Gerd Muller – 14 goals
Despite playing in just two World Cups for West Germany, Gerd Muller still managed to score 14 goals, and pick up the trophy for his troubles. The legendary goal scorer, most famous for the records he set at Bayern Munich, played in the 1970 and 1974 World Cup, scoring in the final of the latter as Germany came from a goal down against the Netherlands to win 2-1 in their own backyard. Muller was actually outscored by Grzegorz Lato of Poland that year, with his best return coming in 1970, where he scored 10 goals in one campaign, beating the likes of Jairzinho and Pele to the award.
Just Fontaine – 13 goals
Perhaps an even crazier stat, all of Just Fontaine’s World Cup goals came in his one and only tournament. The French forward, who went into the 1958 World Cup as one of the best players on the planet, helped his side top the group including scoring a hattrick in a 7-3 win over Paraguay to reach last eight. After beating Northern Ireland, France were bested in the semis by a famous Brazil team that would go on to win the tournament, but that didn’t stop Fontaine scoring four goals in the third-place playoff against West Germany.