Wednesday, 2 April 2014

Brazil 2014 - Golden Shoe Contenders

Continuing the build up to the 2014 World Cup, this time, it's a look on where to put your money (if you're the betting type). As regular readers know, this site tracks the Top Four European Leagues tracking both the Big Game Scorers and the Flat Track Bullies (as seen in the menus at the top). And given the World Cup is the biggest stage of, I'll look at the contenders along with their odds.

Note: Odds and stats accruate at 1st April 2014

Of course being a Flat Track Bully also has it's merits when looking at leading World Cup scorers. Think back to USA '94 and Oleg Salenko scored 5 goals in a final group game against Cameroon when both teams were heading out. A bit more recently, I highlighted the curious case of Miroslav Klose. Despite being only one goal behind the great Ronaldo in the all time scoring charts, only one of his 14 World Cup goals has come after the Second Round (with 10 goals coming in group stages). He won the Golden Shoe in 2006 with 5 goals - 4 of which were against the not so mighty Costa Rica and Ecuador in the group stages.

So when considering where to put your money this year, it's worth looking at the standard of opponent in the group stages too - not just a player whose team will likely make it to the latter stages.

The Favourites - Up to 30-1


(all statistics are League goals only)

Lionel Messi - There are those that believe Messi won't be considered a true great until he has a great World Cup. It's no coincidence that the three greatest players of all time have all had major impacts on at least one World Cup - Pele, Maradona and Zidane. Messi's World Cup record for one of the most prolific players of all time is not great. One World Cup goal in 2006, none in 2010.

Why is he favourite now? Well it's because Argentina are now built around him. In his last 16 internationals, he has scored 18 goals - including a hat trick against bitter rivals Brazil. He'll be 26 when the tournament kicks off and of course, it's in South America.

And the fact that Argentina's group contains Bosnia, Nigeria, and Iran. Fill your boots Leo. For Barcelona this season and in fact every season, the level of opponent doesn't tend to bother him, he just scores against everyone. When you look at it like that, the odds are pretty generous if you get in quick.
Odds: 9-1

Neymar - Messi's club team mate, Neymar is very much part of the supporting cast for Barcelona. This is definitely not the case for his national team. The only man who can rival Messi for pressure at this World Cup, he has the hopes of the home nation resting squarely on his shoulders.

Why is he among the favourites? His performance at the Confederations Cup last year was impressive, taking the golden boot in the warm up for the World Cup. Although his performance for Barcelona has been a bit on the patchy side this season, he does have a goal against Real Madrid in what is one of the most high pressure matches in club football. Plus he's playing for the hosts.

The group stage sees Croatia, Mexico and Cameroon face Brazil. Whilst these are all decent teams on paper, Croatia are playing in vastly different conditions, Mexico were very poor in qualifying (relying on the US), and Cameroon were against largely untested opponents - Libya, Togo and Congo.
Odds: 14-1

Cristiano Ronaldo - The current World Player of the Year and perhaps the most driven player in world football. The Real Madrid star is well used to the big games - scoring a hat trick in the World Cup play off against Sweden, as well as countless Clasico goals, and a Champions League Final goal. He recently became the record scorer for Portugal with his 49th international goal. At 29, he is at his peak, and with a strong showing in both Euro 2004 and Euro 2012, he's got form in Tournament Football.

Why is he among the favourites? He's World Player of the year, he's scored 246 goals in 239 games for Real Madrid and he would burst a blood vessel trying to score a goal. All the play comes through him. The odds are a bit more generous due to playing for a European team and also the group stage opponents - Germany, USA and Ghana
Odds: 15-1

Luis Suarez - The leading scorer in the Top 4 European Leagues, and currently playing the best football of his career. The question mark around him mainly comes in the form of goals against the top teams in the Premier League. Whilst he has 6 goals against the Top 6, this is based at the time of play, rather than the current table. On the positive side, he's scored home and away against both Spurs and city rivals Everton, as well as a goal at Old Trafford. On the negative side, the title race is against Man City, Arsenal (just about) and Chelsea - all of whom he's failed to scored against (though does have assists).

Why is he one of the favourites? He's the top scorer in the big four leagues. He's playing with freedom and hunger (no jokes), and is almost as likely to get an assist as a goal (if players finish level on goals, the number of assists comes into account). And like Messi and Neymar, he's playing for South American team, and we all know the history of World Cups hosted in Latin America.

Group Opponents are tough though - England (who he should be used to), Italy and Costa Rica. It wouldn't be unrealistic to see a hat trick against Costa Rica, and one or two against the established European teams. It's a tough group to call though, hence the generous odds.
Odds: 17-1

Sergio Aguero - Although Suarez tops the goalscoring list, Aguero actually has a better goals per minutes record this season. Unfortunately for him, injuries have held him back. The problem with him and this is applicable for all Argentinian strikers not called Messi, is that his country has an embarressment of riches up front, so even if his fitness is okay, his place is still far from guaranteed.

Why is he a favourite? If he does play, like Messi, he's facing Iran and Nigeria and playing for a South American team. He's a prolific forward who thrives in the big games - this season has seen strikes against Man Utd, Chelsea, Spurs and Arsenal. If he gets the nod over Higuain, he'll be a good bet.
Odds: 17-1

The last three players making up the favourites are Higuain, van Persie and Diego Costa. All have generous odds for a variety of factors. Higuain isn't guaranteed a starting spot, despite a great track record (including a hat trick in the last World Cup). It's likely that Messi and Aguero will start (supported by Di Maria) pushing the prolific Napoli front man down the pecking order. Robin van Persie is also at 25-1 - generous odds for the main striker in the Dutch team. Considering he has the likes of Robben and Sneijder supplying him, he should get plenty of goals. But....2010 was very poor for him, and he's spent this season in and out for Man Utd. And then there's the group - Spain, Chile (dark horses for many) and Australia. He'll have to notch a few against the weakened Aussies if he stands a chance for the Golden Shoe this time round.

Diego Costa is a tempting bet. There's been a big song and dance about him switching from Brazil to Spain in a World Cup year - especially when that World Cup is in Brazil. I think he must have been given some guarantees about starting, as that's not a decision to be made lightly. He didn't pull up any trees on his debut against Italy recently, but that was his first game with new team mates, and Atleti don't play like Spain. Playing for the World and European Champions, the main striker has been there or thereabouts for the last two tournaments - Villa and Torres for 2010 and 2012 respectively. At 27-1, this might be worth a bet.

Wider Odds - Over 30-1 to 40-1

This is where I personally think there's decent money to be won. One name stands out for me here - Karim Benzema. He's enjoying a fine season for Real Madrid - recently scoring a cracker in el Clasico. He's also starting to deliver for France, scoring against Holland in the recent friendly. With France facing Switzerland, Honduras and Ecuador, there's certainly an opportunity for him to rack up a few early goals, and that group should also see the French progress. At 40-1, he'll be a great outside bet. As you can see from his league goals this season, he's just as likely to score against the Top Teams as he is the bottom.
Other than Benzema, Rooney is England's highest placed player - he's certainly due a good tournament - no goals since his breakthrough in Euro 2004. Ex Man City pyromanic Mario Balotelli is likely to start for Italy and is in at 32-1 along with Thomas Muller (5 goals in 2010) and Belgian pair Benteke and Lukaku. There's much expected of Belgium this year, and along with Colombia, many are tipping them as dark horses.
As you can never write off the Germans and in particular Miroslav Klose, he's been given 40-1 odds, though the number 9 position is still up for grabs for the German national team. Andre Schurrle in the (table below) scored a hat trick in the final qualifier against Sweden, so it's hard to call this one.
And Torres. Oh Fernando, what has become of you? Saying that, I backed him for Euro 2012 and he came through - winning the Golden Shoe thanks to assists. He seems to be on a massive downward spiral, as reflected by his paltry 4 league goals this season. However, he still seems to do it on the big stage - Final goals in the last two European Championships, a Europa League Final goal last year, and a decisive goal away at Barcelona in the 2012 Champions League semi final suggests he still thrives on the big stage. The 2010 World Cup would beg to differ.

The Long Shots (selected) - 50-1 and above


England's own Daniel Sturridge is comfortably the stand out scorer for those backed at 50-1 and above. With 20 league goals (at the time of writing), the Liverpool front man has been given pretty generous odds here. It's probably because he's playing for England and the group contains Italy, and Uruguay. Like his Liverpool strike partner, if he can notch a few against Costa Rica, it could happen, but that group is very hard to call.

Elsewhere, Giroud will be battling Benzema for a starting spot in the French team, and we've seen the lack of quality in that group already. At 50-1, it's worth a quid.

Fernando Llorente is performing well for Juventus after a long settling in period, but like many others on this list, his starting place is far from confirmed.

Feeling Patriotic?

Welbeck (150-1), Defoe (120-1) and Lambert (150-1) are all long shots for a reason. Steer clear.

Notable Others

Carlos Tevez is currently leading the race for the golden boot in Serie A. His 18 goals see him lead Italy's Ciro Immobile by one. Neither should attract your money - Tevez hasn't been called up since 2011. Although widely loved by much of the country, the Argentina coach Sabella is not in that number, and it's thought that Messi doesn't play as well with Carlitos in the team. Tough break. Immobile is perhaps one for the future - at 23, he only has one cap so far. He could be the new Schillachi, but it's unlikely.

Radamel Falcao still has a slim chance of playing at the tournament but the serious injury sustained in January is unlikely to see him play again this season. Which is a shame as many have Colombia down to do great things. But all is not lost for them - they have Hertha Berlin's Adrian Ramos who has 16 Bundesliga goals this season, and Sevilla's Carlos Bacca - fresh from a brace to defeat Real Madrid.

And don't write off Fred. He's looking likely to start as the number 9 for Brazil, and although he lacks the glamour of previous Brazilian strikers, he's got a decent recent record, and played well in the Confederations Cup last year. He's available at 32-1.

Hopefully this helps you make a decision if you fancy a flutter. And if you do, something that can definitely help is a £25 free bet. Choose wisely my friends.