Who will win the Golden Boot for most goals scored in the 2010 World Cup? Our writers make a few suggestions.
David Villa, Spain
Everyone connected with Spain insists that striker Fernando Torres will recover from his latest knee surgery in time for the World Cup. But whether Torres makes it back or not, Villa is the team's biggest candidate for the Golden Boot.
Lest we forget, it was Villa who was Spain's leading goal scorer in the triumphant run to the Euro 2008 title, notching four goals. And although an absent Torres would no doubt be a huge loss, the supply line to Villa would largely remain the same, giving him plenty of opportunities to shine.
At 5-foot-9, Villa is obviously not the biggest forward in the world, but he has just about every other quality you would want in a scorer. He's adept with both feet, explosive in his movements and a ruthless finisher. Perhaps the only obstacle in Villa's path toward winning the Golden Boot is his unselfishness, as he's just as keen to set up goals as to finish them. That said, look for Villa to get plenty of goals while helping Spain shed its record of World Cup underachievement.
-- Jeff Carlisle
Gonzalo Higuain, Argentina
Higuain will be Argentina's starting striker. That's if his capricious manager, Diego Maradona, doesn't change his mind about his all-purpose starting lineup that he announced for the World Cup in the middle of April. Beating out Kun Aguero and Carlos Tevez for the starting job makes Higuain an early favorite for the Golden Boot. He'll be benefiting from the service of two dedicated wingers, Jonas Gutierrez and Angel Di Maria, and with Lionel Messi playing behind him, a lot of defensive focus should shift away from Higuain.
At Real Madrid, 22-year old Higuain has been lights-out, beating out stiff competition for the starting job there, too. With 25 league goals in just 28 appearances, he has shown to be a deft and opportunistic finisher capable of scoring in myriad ways. Although Higuain played in only two of Argentina's qualifiers (scoring once) in the past two years -- in spite of 47 La Liga goals in that span -- and has just four caps, he has been a fixture in recent friendlies and scored the winner in the 1-0 victory over Germany on March 3.
Cristiano Ronaldo, Portugal
It's tempting to choose the most prolific goal scorer on the best team (Villa) or the best player overall (Messi), but winning the Golden Boot comes down to a more complex formula. Teams such as Spain and Argentina will get goals from all over the field. The tournament's top scorer likely will be a rarer quantity: the principal goal-scoring resource for a well-rounded team that goes deep into the tournament but has few other world-class offensive weapons. The man who fits that bill is Portugal's Ronaldo.
Ronaldo has been largely forgotten in the "world's best player" discussion this season after a relatively quiet year for Real Madrid (he has still scored 20 goals in 25 games thus far). The exploits of Wayne Rooney, who took over the goal-scoring load this year from Ronaldo at Manchester United, and Messi, who has owned La Liga, have cast a shadow over the Portuguese star. So it's certain that ultracompetitive Ronaldo will be pumped to re-establish himself with a phenomenal World Cup.
Portugal's opening-round games with fellow offensive-minded teams Brazil and Ivory Coast should mean some wide-open matches, and it will be interesting to see what unknowns North Korea can do to contain Ronaldo (or Didier Drogba and Kaka for that matter). Portugal will get some flair and a few goals elsewhere, but the team is built around its star, who also will take most of the free kicks and penalties -- good for a couple of additional goals. Look for that formula to result in a significant goal haul for Ronaldo, and renewed talk of Portugal's golden boy as the world's best.
Robin van Persie, Netherlands
To win the Golden Boot, you need a few things to go right for you. First and foremost, you have to be on a good team. Second, help is required from those around you. Finally, you need some luck, and staying injury-free comes into that equation.
Where van Persie is concerned, the first factor can be confidently checked. Netherlands cruised through qualifying without a loss or a tie, and the Dutch are favorites to top Group E, which also contains Denmark, Cameroon and Japan. Should they do so, the Oranje would fancy their chances against likely second-round opponent Slovakia or Paraguay.
Therefore, van Persie can expect to have plenty of games in which to challenge for the title. If he takes penalties, too, all the better for his chances. As for getting help from those around him, that shouldn't be a problem, either, given that Wesley Sneijder and Arjen Robben will be among his teammates.
Factor 3 is the wild card for van Persie. Can the 26-year-old, who only recently returned to action for Arsenal after missing five months with an ankle injury suffered while on international duty, remain fit throughout the tournament? If he can, van Persie could become the first Dutchman to top the World Cup scoring charts.
Wayne Rooney, England
Will England win the World Cup and finally end the 44-year drought? No, probably not. But the English have a pretty nice draw, starting with the U.S., Slovenia and Algeria. That means Rooney could pocket three or four goals in the group stage. The second-round foe is likely either Serbia or Australia, meaning more goals could follow. Remember, the leading scorer of the World Cup in 2006, Miroslav Klose, netted five times.
Spain is rightfully the favorite to win the title, and David Villa will indeed get his share of goals, but they'll also spread it around thanks to fabulous depth in midfield and Villa's strike partner, Fernando Torres (if he's fit).