There is perhaps no greater single honour in football than scoring a goal for your country at a World Cup. The release of emotion is unparalleled, both in the stands and on the pitch. One can only imagine how it feels to be the one putting the ball in the back of the net.
Even the most inconsequential of goals can be a Niagara of passion. In the last World Cup in 2018, Panama were losing 6-0 to England with ten minutes remaining when Felipe Baloy stabbed home a set-piece cross to make it 6-1 – their first World Cup goal. It was the most inconsequential of consolation strikes, but the players and fans went crazy.
That was one goal. Imagine scoring multiple times. Imagine scoring enough to be named the tournament’s top scorer and win the Golden Boot. Below are the stories of the 21 men to do exactly that.
World Cup Golden Boot Winners List
1930, Uruguay) Guillermo Stabile, Argentina – 8 Goals
Uruguay won the very first World Cup on home soil in 1930. But it was their rivals from across the River Plate that provided the tournament with its top scorer. Guillermo Stabile scored eight times in total. He opened his account with a hat-trick in Argentina’s second group stage match, scoring three times as Mexico fell 6-3. Another two goals against Chile followed as Argentina advanced to the semi-finals. Stabile netted twice more in the 6-1 victory over the USA before a final goal in the 4-2 Final loss to Uruguay.
1934, Italy) Oldřich Nejedlý, Czechoslovakia – 5 Goals
Italy became the first European representatives to triumph on the world stage in 1934. Meanwhile, Oldřich Nejedlý became the first European to take home the Golden Boot. He scored five times as Czechoslovakia reached the final where they lost 2-1 to hosts Italy. The tournament went straight to a knockout format this time, and Oldřich Nejedlý scored in each match up until the final, including a hat-trick against Germany in the semis.
1938, France) Leônidas, Brazil – 7 Goals
Again, Italy were victorious in 1938. This time, it was a Brazilian, the wonderfully named Leônidas who scored the most goals in France. He scored thrice as Brazil beat Poland 6-5 in one of the great World Cup matches in the round of 16. Leônidas netted in the quarter-finals too, scoring against Czechoslovakia in one of the most brutal matches played at this level. Brazil lost in the penultimate round, but Leônidas won the Golden Boot thanks to a deuce in the third-place play-off against Sweden.
1950, Brazil) Ademir, Brazil – 8 Goals
Brazil should have begun their World Cup monopoly in 1950, but one of the most earth-shaking results of all-time against Uruguay – in front of 200,000 at the Maracanã – meant they could only finish runners-up. In the Golden Boot, however, their representative Ademir was a runaway winner. He netted eight times, including four against Sweden in the final group stage match.
1954, Switzerland) Sándor Kocsis, Hungary – 11 Goals
Hungary had one of the game’s greatest ever teams in 1954. At the forefront of their innovative style was Sándor Kocsis, the Honved striker who would later join Barcelona. He scored 11 times as Hungary swept all before them in the first four matches of the World Cup. Four of his 11 goals came against West Germany in the group stage as Hungary won 8-3, a scoreline which made their eventual 3-2 Final loss to the same nation all the more stunning.
1958, Sweden) Just Fontaine, France – 13 Goals
Despite playing just six matches in a single World Cup, Just Fontaine is fourth in the tournament’s all-time scoring charts. His remarkable campaign in 1958 was not enough to win France their first major trophy, but it was more than enough to write him into World Cup folklore. He scored six times in the group stage, twice in the quarter-finals and four times in the third-place play-off.
1962, Chile) Flórián Albert, Hungary; Valentin Ivanov, Soviet Union; Garrincha, Brazil; Vavá, Brazil; Dražan Jerković, Yugoslavia; Leonel Sánchez, Chile – 4 Goals.
Only twice in World Cup history has the Golden Boot been shared. Given that there are relatively few matches in each tournament, this is a remarkable statistic. 1962 was the only edition where it was shared by more than two players. Six forwards scored exactly four goals, including Vavá and Garrincha from champions Brazil.
1966, England) Eusébio, Portugal – 9 Goals
England won the World Cup in 1966, beating West Germany at Wembley in the final. But the individual star of the tournament was Eusébio. He scored nine times, including once against England in the semi-final. Prior to that, he hit a deuce against Brazil in the knockout stages and struck four times in a remarkable comeback victory over North Korea in the quarter-finals.
1970, Mexico) Gerd Müller, West Germany – 10 Goals
Gerd Müller was one of the most prolific scorers in the history of the game. It was, therefore, no surprise that he found his shooting boots in 1970 as West Germany reached the semi-finals of the World Cup. He scored ten times, with three goals coming in the knockout rounds and seven in the group stage, including a hat-trick in a 3-1 win over Peru.
1974, West Germany) Grzegorz Lato, Poland – 7 Goals
Poland’s Grzegorz Lato was prolific on the international stage, reaching exactly 100 caps and scoring 45 goals across his career. Poland were the surprise package of the tournament in 1974, reaching the semi-final where they only narrowly missed out on a Final appearance after defeat to eventual champions West Germany. Lato, their talisman, was their driving force. He netted four times in the initial group stage, twice in the second, and once in the third-place play-off to clinch the Golden Boot.
1978, Argentina) Mario Kempes, Argentina – 6 Goals
Maradona was just 17 at the time of Argentina’s first World Cup triumph. He wasn’t called up to the squad that year, but in his place was his nation’s original World Cup superstar, Mario Kempes. Kempes scored six times, the two most important of which came in the final. Kempes put Argentina ahead before the Netherlands scored a late equaliser. In extra-time, Kempes grabbed his second of the match and his sixth of the tournament before Ricardo Bertoni made it 3-1 to make sure of the result.
1982, Spain) Paolo Rossi, Italy – 6 Goals
Italy won their third World Cup in 1982, with Paolo Rossi their star man. He scored one of their three goals in the final as they overcame West Germany. Before that, he bagged in the semi-finals against Poland too. He scored once in the initial group stage, but his finest hour – or should that be 90 minutes – came against Brazil in the final match of the second group stage. Italy won 3-2, with Rossi scoring all three in a World Cup classic.
1986, Mexico) Gary Lineker, England – 6 Goals
England could only reach the quarter-finals in 1986. They were knocked out by two extraordinary Maradona goals – both for different reasons. But that didn’t stop red-hot Gary Lineker claiming the Golden Boot. He scored in that Argentina match as England lost 2-1. Just a few days previously, Lineker’s two goals helped England beat Paraguay 3-0. Add to his hat-trick against Poland in the group stage and Lineker became the first England player to win the Golden Boot.
1990, Italy) Salvatore Schillaci, Italy – 6 Goals
Despite its relatively low goals per game stats, Italia 90 is one of the most romanticised World Cups. West Germany won the tournament, beating Argentina in the final. The hosts went out on penalties in the semi-final, but they did provide the competition’s top-scorer. Two of Schillachi’s goals came in the group stage, against Austria and Czechoslovakia respectively. He then netted at the quarter and semi-final stages before adding a sixth in the third-place play-off to secure his status as top scorer.
1994, United States) Oleg Salenko, Russia; Hristo Stoichkov, Bulgaria – 6 Goals
Apart from 1962, the only other time the Golden Boot was shared at the World Cup was in 1994, when Russia’s Oleg Salenko and Bulgaria’s Hristo Stoichkov scored six goals apiece. Bulgaria reached the semi-finals, becoming a cult team in the process thanks to Stoichkov’s exploits. Salenko’s Russia by contrast didn’t advance from the group stage. Salenko scored once against Sweden and stunningly netted five times in their final match against Cameroon.
1998, France) Davor Šuker, Croatia – 6 Goals
Just as Bulgaria were 1994’s cult side, Croatia were many people’s second team at the World Cup in France in 1998. The hosts would go on to win the tournament, but they would first have to squeeze past Croatia in the semi-finals. On the scoresheet in that 2-1 defeat was Davor Šuker. He would score six times at the tournament in total, with his award-clinching goal coming in the third-place play-off as Croatia beat the Netherlands to claim bronze. Prior to that, Šuker netted against Germany in the quarter-finals and Romania in the Round of 16 as well as bagging Group Stage goals against Jamaica and Japan.
2002, Japan and South Korea) Ronaldo, Brazil – 8 Goals
Ronaldo is remembered as one of the finest attacking talents ever to grace a football pitch. In 2002, he was at his best, scoring eight goals as his Brazil side won the World Cup in Japan and South Korea. Until recently when Miroslav Klose surpassed him, Ronaldo was the top scorer in the history of the competition. He would score three times at the World Cup in 2006, taking his overall tally to 15. Without a doubt, the two most important came in the final in 2002 as Brazil beat Germany and stitched the fifth star above their crest.
2006, Germany) Miroslav Klose, Germany – 5 Goals
While admittedly an excellent striker, Miroslav Klose never quite reached the level with his club sides as he did on international duty. When tournament time came around, Klose burst into life, scoring goal after goal after goal. In 2006, his tally of five was enough to earn him the Golden Boot as Germany reached the semi-finals – as they always do – on home soil. Klose scored twice in the opening match as Germany beat Costa Rica 4-2 before adding another deuce in his country’s final Group Stage match, a 3-0 win over Ecuador. His only goal in the knockout round came in the quarter-finals as he scored a late equaliser against Argentina which took the match to extra-time. Germany eventually triumphed on penalties, again as they always do.
2010, South Africa) Thomas Muller, Germany – 5 Goals
Thomas Muller seems like’s he been around forever. It’s strange to think that 2010 was actually his first World Cup. That fact makes his winning the Golden Boot as a young Germany side reached the semi-finals in South Africa all the more impressive. Two of his best-remembered goals came in the 4-2 demolition of England in the first knockout round, but he scored again in the quarter-finals as Germany beat Argentina. Muller had already netted a goal in the Group Stage against Australia, so when he bagged in the third-place play-off, it was enough for him to win the Golden Boot.
2014, Brazil) James Rodriguez, Colombia – 6 Goals
Almost exclusively, World Cup Golden Boot winners have been strikers. When young Colombian attacking midfielder James Rodriguez scored six goals across the tournament in 2014, then, it was a turn up for the books. The little number ten had scored in all three group stage matches, against Greece, the Ivory Coast and Japan, before twice against Uruguay in the first knockout round. His first goal that evening was one of the best in World Cup history. He scored another goal, a penalty against Brazil, in the quarters as Colombia were dumped out by the hosts.
2018, Russia) Harry Kane, England – 6 Goals
2018 was England’s best World Cup performance since 1990, and it was therefore fitting that it was an English striker who took home the Golden Boot in Russia. Harry Kane netted six times, with three of those goals coming against Panama in the group stage. Prior to that, Kane had converted a penalty and snatched a late winner against Tunisia in England’s first match of the tournament. He missed out against Belgium as England manager Gareth Southgate elected to play a more inexperienced side. However, Kane was back on the scoresheet in the first knockout round as England eventually progressed past Colombia on penalties.