With the upcoming World Cup finals in Qatar at the forefront of every soccer fan’s mind, we’ve decided to look back at previous World Cups and see which players have shone on the world stage.
Goals win games, and a goal for your country at a World Cup finals is the pinnacle of a player’s professional career.
Some of the greatest players have played in some of the most memorable World Cup games ever seen, and a player can make or break their reputation based on a good display. We’ve seen many players earn huge moves to top clubs, all thanks to their World Cup displays, so it’s essential to do well.
A striker who finishes as the top scorer at a World Cup is awarded the Golden Boot trophy, although it’s also been known in the past as the Golden Shoe or simply the Top Goalscorer award.
Regardless of the title, its importance can’t be overstated; to be the most prolific player at a World Cup is a once-in-a-lifetime achievement.
Let’s look back at nine of the most prolific goalscorers the World Cup has ever seen; with many household names, it’s clear that the elite players know how to handle the pressure on the world’s biggest stage.
Here are the 9 players with the most goals in a single FIFA World Cup.
9. Leonidas – 7 Goals
- World Cup: 1938 In France
- Country: Brazil
While not as well known as his Greek namesake, Brazil’s Leonidas was arguably no less important to his country, especially at the World Cup finals.
Leonidas was one of Brazil’s best strikers during the 1930s and 1940s and, in a 20-year career, would score 230 league goals in 291 appearances.
In an international career that spanned 14 years, Leonidas would only play 19 times for his country, making his seven-goal haul at the 1938 World Cup finals even more impressive.
Leading Brazil to a third-place finish, despite being injured for much of the tournament, Leonidas was eventually rested to give him a chance to recover, only for Brazil to lose in the semi-finals.
8. Grzegorz Lato – 7 Goals
- World Cup: 1974 In West Germany
- Country: Poland
Grzegorz Lato, a former Polish international winger, was the unlikely recipient of the Golden Shoe in the 1974 World Cup finals and would finish the tournament with a very impressive seven goals.
After Poland was handed an extremely tough group, hopes weren’t high, yet a brace from Lato against Argentina in a shock 3-2 win was followed by a further two goals against World Cup minnows Haiti.
Another goal, the only goal of the game, against Sweden, and the winning goal in a 2-1 win against Yugoslavia, propelled Poland to an eventual third-place finish.
To finish third, Poland had to play against Brazil; yet again, the suddenly prolific Lato would supply the game’s only goal, making him the top scorer in that year’s World Cup.
Lato would finish his career with 100 caps and 45 goals, an excellent return for a winger.
7. Ronaldo – 8 Goals
- World Cup: 2002 In South Korea/Japan
- Country: Brazil
Before there was Cristiano Ronaldo, there was the original Ronaldo, one of the most frighteningly impressive strikers in the history of soccer.
Nicknamed “The Phenomenon,” Ronaldo was powerful, quick, ruthless, and almost unstoppable in his day. With 98 appearances for Brazil and 62 goals, Ronaldo was the player everyone looked to for victory.
After leading the Brazil team to the final of the 1998 World Cup, Ronaldo suffered a breakdown before the Final against France, but due to his importance to the team, he was, rather sadly, forced to play the game.
A crushing defeat inevitably followed as Ronaldo was said to have “sleepwalked” through a game he should have been nowhere near.
In 2002, Ronaldo had barely kicked a soccer ball in two years due to a horrific cruciate injury. Brazil had staggered to the World Cup finals, a shadow of their former glory, and expectations were non-existent.
Ronaldo recovered just in time to make the squad, but with no match fitness wasn’t expected to contribute.
What followed was one of the most remarkable examples of sheer talent and willpower that soccer has ever seen. Ronaldo romped through the tournament, scoring eight goals as he dragged his beloved Brazil to the World Cup final against Germany.
With no intention of reaching another final and going home empty-handed, Ronaldo scored both goals in a 2-0 win for Brazil.
His generation’s greatest-ever striker, Ronaldo had performed miracles, and his performance at the finals has gone down as one of the most incredible displays of willpower ever seen on a soccer pitch.
6. Guillermo Stabile – 8 Goals
- World Cup: 1930 In Uruguay
- Country: Argentina
In one of the most incredible stories in World Cup history, Guillermo Stabile makes it in at number six on our list of players with the most goals in a single World Cup. What’s amazing about it, you ask? Well, for a start, Stabile only ever played in four international games, ever.
A center-forward for 15 seasons, Stabile played for teams such as Huracan (102 goals in 119 games, no less), Genoa, and Napoli. On the international stage, the Argentine striker only made one World Cup squad, but in his four games, he managed to score an insatiable eight goals.
Walking away with the top scorer award for the 1930 World Cup in Uruguay, Stabile would help Argentina to a second-place spot, scoring a hat-trick against Mexico on the way to the final.
Incredibly, Stabile wasn’t even picked for the tournament’s first game. Or his final tally could have been much higher.
5. Ademir – 8 Goals
- World Cup: 1950 In Brazil
- Country: Brazil
Not a great deal is known about Ademir, apart from his incredible World Cup statistics, we’ve very little evidence of just how prolific the player was for his club sides. Internationally, Ademir had a very successful career, scoring 32 goals for the Brazilian national team.
The first player to score a competitive goal at the now-fabled Maracana Stadium, Ademir was a rapid, intelligent, and clinical striker with the ability to score with both feet.
A feared striker in his day, the Brazilian would lead the national team to the 1950 World Cup final against Uruguay, where the team would lose 2-1 to break Brazilian hearts.
The loss to Uruguay was a tragedy so great that it’s still felt today, despite Brazil going on to become the most incredible International side of all time. Thanks to Ademir’s goalscoring exploits, Brazil at least walked away with a second-place finish and the tournament’s top-scorer award.
4. Eusebio – 9 Goals
- World Cup: 1966 In England
- Country: Portugal
Portuguese legend Eusebio is more than just a soccer player; he’s a national treasure, a global soccer icon who transcends the sport. On top of that, the former Benfica player just happened to be one of the best strikers in world soccer.
Nicknamed the “Black Panther,” Eusebio was a prolific striker at both club and international levels. In the 1966 World Cup finals in England, Eusebio would lead Portugal to a third-place finish and lead the scoring charts for the tournament, finishing up with a tasty-looking nine goals.
The 1966 World Cup final was interesting; at one point before the tournament, the trophy was stolen, only to be found by a dog named Pickles four months before the kick-off of the finals.
1966 was also the last final to be broadcast in black and white, as the advent of color television was making broadcasting soccer a much more appealing prospect.
Eusebio’s nine goals, including a hat trick against North Korea, confirmed what everyone already knew; the Portuguese player was one of the best stickers around. His legacy is as
strong today as it was during his playing days, and he remains one of Portuguese soccer’s most famous players.
3. Gerd Muller – 10 Goals
- World Cup: 1970 In Mexico
- Country: Germany
West Germany center-forward Gerd Muller, “Der Bomber” to fans, was one of European soccer’s greatest strikers.
An incredible career with Bayern Munich saw the German international score 398 league goals in just 453 appearances, making him one of the most lethal finishers around.
Muller scored more than a goal a game for the West Germany team, finishing up with 68 goals in just 62 international appearances.
Muller’s crowning achievement was his stunning haul of 10 goals during the 1970 World Cup in Mexico; even with Muller scoring ten goals, West Germany could only finish in third place.
Scoring ten goals in just six games during the World Cup, Muller helped West Germany to finish top of their group, with three wins out of three, before scoring an extra-time winner against the holders England in a 3-2 victory.
Two goals in the semi-final against Italy weren’t enough to help the West Germans progress, as they crashed out 4-3 after extra time, but Muller would still walk away with the Golden Shoe as the most prolific striker at the World Cup.
Ninety-five goals were scored at the 1970 World Cup, giving the German predator a respectable percentage of the overall goals.
2. Sandor Kocsis – 11 Goals
- World Cup: 1954 In Switzerland
- Country: Hungary
Not many people score four goals against West Germany, but Sandor Kocsis was a bit of a specialist when it came to scoring hattricks in international games; the Hungarian striker scored a record seven hattricks for his national side in his eight-year international career.
The 1954 World Cup saw the prolific Honved and Barcelona striker score a magnificent 11 goals in Switzerland, including a hat-trick against South Korea and four against West Germany in a staggering 8-3 victory.
Two further goals against Brazil in the quarter-finals and another two in the semi-final against Uruguay saw Kocsis reach the final of the 1954 World Cup with 11 goals with a game left to play.
The Hungarians would meet West Germany in the final, and given the group stage victory of 8-3, hopes were high for a Hungarian win.
Unfortunately, Kocsis had a poor game, not scoring for the first time all tournament, and the West Germany team would go on to lift their first-ever World Cup trophy in a 3-2 victory.
Hungarian hearts were broken, but Kocsis would take home the Golden Shoe for his truly inspired displays over the tournament.
1. Just Fontaine – 13 Goals
- World Cup: 1958 In Sweden
- Country: France
Just Fontaine’s record of 13 goals in a single World Cup tournament has stood for over 60 years, and it’s unlikely ever to be beaten.
A superb striker whose career was cut short by injury, Fontaine retired at just 28 years of age; his legacy in French soccer will never be forgotten.
Despite only playing for France on 21 occasions, Fontaine had an incredible scoring record for Les Bleus, scoring 30 goals over his seven-year international career.
For the 1958 World Cup, Fontaine cemented his legacy, though, as he finished the tournament’s top scorer with 13 goals in just six appearances.
France would only finish third in the finals, but impressive results such as a 7-3 victory over Paraguay, where Fontaine would score a hattrick, meant that the team could at least go home with their heads held high.
Two further goals in a defeat to Yugoslavia, and another in a victory over Scotland, saw France progress into the quarter-finals.
A resounding 4-0 victory over Northern Ireland would add a further two goals to Fontaine’s personal tally and see the team progress into the semi-finals against Brazil.
Fontaine would score against Brazil, but France wouldn’t be able to keep the Brazilians at bay for long and would eventually lose the game 5-2.
All that was left for France was a chance to finish the tournament in third place, though a solid West German team stood in their way.
Over 32,000 fans saw Fontaine score an incredible four goals past West Germany as France would win the game 6-3, with Fontaine taking home the Golden Shoe for his astonishing haul of 11 goals.