Historically, Miroslav Klose is the all-time top scorer in the World Cup. The German opened his account with a hat-trick against Saudi Arabia in his tournament debut in 2002, and 12 years later he had amassed a record 16 goals in total.
Though he didn’t score, his final appearance saw Germany defeat Argentina to win the 2014 World Cup, ensuring he signed off in style.
His record is unlikely to be broken at the 2022 World Cup, but it’s not impossible that a countryman could get close to it. Only once since 1974 has a player scored more than six goals in a single edition and Thomas Muller has arrived in Qatar with 10 goals in his account.
The Bayern Munich man has scored five goals at two World Cups. Muller was the second top scorer in Brazil eight years ago and won the Golden Boot four years earlier.
England’s Harry Kane is the reigning Golden Boot holder, thanks to the six goals he scored in Russia in 2018 and the Tottenham striker still harbours hopes of becoming one of the top World Cup scorers of all time by the end of Qatar 2022.
He was the bookmakers’ favourite to retain his crown coming into the tournament, though it’s worth bearing in mind that no player has ever retained the award. The aforementioned Klose and Muller have both won it and finished second in their careers.
Though the Golden Boot was only formally introduced for the 1982 tournament in Spain, it’s obviously possible to look back to 1930 to see who the top scorers were at every World Cup.
The record for most goals at a single tournament could well stand forever. France’s Just Fontaine scored 13 goals at the 1958 edition in Sweden. In the Group Stage, he scored three times against Paraguay, twice against Yugoslavia and once against Scotland.
That group stage haul alone would probably win the Golden Boot these days, but Fontaine then scored two more goals against Northern Ireland, one against Brazil, and finally four in the Third-Place play-off with West Germany.
Injury sadly forced him to retire in 1962 and so he only appeared at one World Cup. Had he remained fit, it would likely be the name Just Fontaine featuring in the opening paragraph as the highest World Cup scorer.
He is not the only player to have hit double figures at a World Cup. Sandor Kocsis bagged 11 goals for runners-up Hungary in 1954, while Gerd Muller netted 10 times for West Germany in 1970.
The three men with 10+ goals in a single edition all bagged two hat-tricks as part of their haul too.
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At the time of writing, there have been 52 instances of a player scoring at least three goals in a World Cup match, with Kane’s hat-trick in a 6-1 victory against Panama in June 2018 the most recent example.
This is where Fontaine and Kocsis can be separated from Gerd Muller. They both scored four goals in a game, as have Ernst Wilimowski, Ademir, Eusebio and Emilio Butragueno.
But top of the tree is Oleg Salenko, a Russian forward who struck five times against Cameroon at the 1994 World Cup. What makes his feat stand out more is that his only other international goal occurred in the preceding match – a loss against Sweden – and his side did not make it through the Group Stage.
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Salenko’s meagre total of eight caps still provided enough opportunity for him to secure football immortality, and no player has even managed four goals in a World Cup match since.
There has been one interesting achievement though. Seven days before Salenko scored five, Argentina’s Gabriel Batistuta notched a hat-trick against Greece. Four years to the day later he bagged three in a 5-0 win against Jamaica, becoming the only man to date who has scored hat-tricks at two World Cups.
Batistuta is also one of 13 men who have accumulated at least 10 goals in their World Cup career. He falls short of his high scoring contemporaries in one sense though, as we elaborate on below.
There are four men with 10 goals who would not have reached double figures if penalties were excluded. Batistuta bagged the most from the spot in this elite group (four), ahead of Teofilo Cubillas, Gary Lineker (both two) and Thomas Muller (one).
Another way to value goals is to look only at those which were scored in the knockout phase. Cubillas got just one beyond the Group Stage, though it was at least in a quarter-final; Batistuta and Jürgen Klinsmann did not score beyond the Round of 16.
It also seems fair to discount goals scored in the Third-Place play-off, as it is effectively a glorified friendly between two disappointed teams who don’t take the match too seriously.
By looking at the Round of 16, Quarter and Semi-finals and Final, we find that Brazil legend Ronaldo is the top goal scorer in the World Cup in fully competitive knockout matches.
The 2002 World Cup top scorer netted a total of four goals across Last 16 matches in three successive editions, semi-final goals against Netherlands (in 1998) and Turkey (2002), plus both goals in the final when his nation last won the trophy 20 years ago.
Overall, he may have ultimately finished runner up to Klose, but Ronaldo has arguably scored more important goals than any other player in World Cup history.
Miroslav Klose of Germany has scored the most FIFA World Cup goals with 16. Eleven of his 16 goals came in the group stages while five came in the knockout stages. Klose averaged a goal every 111 minutes and 0.67 goals per game.
There were four different goalscorers in the 1966 World Cup final, with England’s Geoff Hurst scoring a hat-trick (3). England beat West Germany 4-2 after extra-time with Martin Peters scoring the other goal for the Three Lions. For West Germany, Helmut Haller and Wolfgang Weber were the goalscorers.
Ahead of Qatar 2022, Cristiano Ronaldo has scored 7 goals in 17 appearances at the FIFA World Cup finals. His minutes-per-goal ratio at the World Cup currently stands at 210, while 2 of his 7 goals have come from the penalty spot.
Ahead of Qatar 2022, Lionel Messi has scored 6 goals in 19 appearances at the FIFA World Cup finals. He averages a goal every 271 minutes at the World Cup and 1.5 goals per tournament. None of his 6 World Cup goals have come from the penalty spot.
Three-time winner Pele scored 12 goals in 14 appearances for Brazil at the FIFA World Cup, 7 of which came in the crucial knock-out stages. He averaged 0.86 goals per game and 3 per tournament. None of his 12 goals were penalties.
At the last World Cup in France, 169 goals were scored across 64 matches. Harry Kane was the Golden Boot winner with six goals. The England striker was one of two players to score a hat-trick at the 2018 World Cup, Cristiano Ronaldo being the other.
Hakan Sukur of Turkey scored the fastest goal in FIFA World Cup history (11 seconds) in the third-place play-off with South Korea at the 2002 event. It beat the previous record – set by Vaclav Masek for Czechoslovakia against Mexico in 1962 (16 seconds) – by five seconds.
French forward Just Fontaine scored 13 goals in six matches at the 1958 World Cup, a record that still stands. He scored in all six appearances, including a hat-trick in France’s first game against Paraguay and four in the third-place play-off with West Germany.