Qatar 2022: Who Were The Top Goalscorers in World Cup Qualifying?
One of the most hotly contested World Cup betting markets is the Golden Boot.
Many bettors assume selecting a player likely to reach the final is the best strategy, yet goals understandably dry up later in the tournament as games get tighter and the price of failure grows greater.
History shows that performance in the Group Stage goes a long way to determining which player stands above all others for goals scored.
The top scorer market on betting sites is led by the names you’d expect to see: Harry Kane, Kylian Mbappe, Neymar and Karim Benzema, ahead of Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, both of whom will surely be taking part in their final World Cup.
But is there any value to be had with a less heralded name? Lesser-known players have won the Golden Boot in the past, after all. It’s therefore worth looking at who scored the most goals in qualifying for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.
Top Scorers in Qualifying
Bagging plenty of qualification goals in no guarantee of anything. Guatemalan forward Carlos Ruiz has more of them (39) than any other player in history, yet his country has never reached the tournament proper.
A similar fate has befallen some men this time around. UAE’s Ali Mabkhout was the top scorer in qualifying, with 14 goals, but like two of the other eight players who hit double figures (China’s Lei Wu and Bolivia’s Marcelo Moreno) he won’t be in Qatar as his nation failed to qualify.
For the purposes of this study, we shall focus upon countries who are among the 32 taking part in the 2022 World Cup.
From this group, Canada’s Cyle Larin was the leading scorer, with 13 goals. The Club Brugge forward is available at around 160/1 to win the Golden Boot so is not expected to carry this hot form through to Qatar.
Here are the 12 players taking part in Qatar who notched at least eight goals in qualifying.
However, four of the players in this chart scored at least four of their goals from the penalty spot.
If we disregard those goals, our sample shortens to 10 men who found the net at least eight times, and while Larin is still top, the other spots on the podium change hands.
Sardar Azmoun was the only player in qualifying to hit double figures for goals without also netting at least one penalty.
The 27-year-old scored in a friendly draw with Senegal in September too, so England, Wales and USA will need to be wary of his skill in front of goal when they face Iran in Group B this November.
Azmoun and Larin had a slight advantage compared to many of their peers on the above table though. The World Cup qualifying process requires a different number of matches in each continent, and they made far more appearances than their European counterparts.
World Cup Qualifying Goals Per Game
If we widen our sample to consider the 26 qualified players who each scored at least six goals, here are the 16 that averaged at least one non-penalty goal every other game.
By this measure, Shin-wook Kim was the most efficient goal scorer, with a quartet of Europeans behind him in the standings thanks in part to their relatively short qualification process.
Despite his impressive record, you won’t find the South Korean anywhere in the Golden Boot market, and not just because Portugal and Uruguay are expected to qualify from Group H at his country’s expense.
Kim’s goals were all scored against Sri Lanka, who are currently the fifth weakest of the 211 nations recognised by FIFA in their rankings.
If we want to get to the bottom of who were the best goal scorers in qualifying, we need to account for the difficulty of opponent which they faced.
Quality of Opposition Goals
To assess this, we assign each nation a numerical value. As Brazil top the FIFA Rankings, a goal against them is worth 211 points, and we go all the way down to one point for San Marino, the nation which props up the rest.
If we sort our players with a minimum of six goals by their average points per non-penalty goal, then a slight flaw in the system reveals itself. Here are the top 10.
The top five players are all from South America. None of the 10 teams who took part in the CONMEBOL qualification are ranked below 82nd in the world, and eight of them are within the top 50. While this makes the matches difficult, it also means that any goal carries a high value.
Before we re-work our methodology, a word for Michael Estrada. Four of his six goals were scored against Colombia, Peru and Uruguay, all of whom are in the top 23 teams in the world at present.
Although Ecuador are not expected to reach the knockout phase, they could have had a harder trio of group-mates than Netherlands, Senegal and hosts Qatar. Perhaps Estrada can fire his nation to something of an upset.
Ecuador are priced around 6/1 to win Group A with several football betting sites.
Quality of Opponent Faced
By applying the same rankings-based weighting to each nation a player faced as well as scored against, we can divide goal points by appearance points to discover who was the most productive.
Here is our new and final top 10, and the man leading the way held a much lower position in the previous table.
Aleksandar Mitrović is in fine form for Fulham this season, and thanks to scoring twice against the likes of Portugal and Republic of Ireland he leads our final table.
Harry Kane returns to our top 10, as does Memphis Depay. The Netherlands international is around 10th in the Golden Boot betting and as he is in one of the weaker groups, he may be worth considering if you are looking to place a wager.
The World Cup is a short tournament, and it normally only takes five or six goals to become the top scorer. Having a pedigree for scoring consistently against tougher opposition could prove decisive, meaning the men in our final table could be ones to watch.
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