Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 25 December 2014

Euro 2012: The golden boot contenders

Mario Gomez (Germany)
Bayern Munich striker Mario Gomez scored on his debut for Germany in 2007 against Switzerland. In the 51 games he's played since, he's notched an noble 21 goals. Yet his form in the big tournaments has failed to impress. Despite breaking up the tried and tested partnership of Lukas Podolski and Miroslav Klose at Euro 2008, he failed to score at the tournament, including a substitute appearance in the final against Spain. At the World Cup in South Africa, he was similarly useless - again failing to find the net even once. But this season he's been in startling form for his club side, scoring 26 goals in the league and an incredible 12 in Bayern's march to the Champions League final - and that's why we're backing the 26-year-old to break his tournament duck and then some at Euro 2012. If he doesn't, Germany can look to those trusted old hands Klose and Podolski to see them through.
Robin van Persie (Netherlands
) Robin van Persie was rightly named the Premier League player of the season - acknowledged for his feat of single-handedly dragging Arsenal to third in the table by scoring lots of goals, and quite a few spectacular ones. The Dutchman has never been on such a hot streak, owing much to his new found ability to steer clear of the treatment table, and he's a good bet to take that form to Poland and Ukraine. On the international stage he's scored 25 goals in 62 games. Included in that are four goals at Euro 2008 before the Dutch were eliminated early, although just a solitary goal at the last World Cup, despite the Dutch reaching the final. Van Persie's team-mate, Klaas Jan Huntelaar, is also a decent shout for the golden boot after topping the Bundesliga scoring charts with Schalke 04.
Cristiano Ronaldo (Portugal)
Is Cristiano Ronaldo a big game player? His recent performance in Real Madrid's La Liga victory over Barcelona at the Nou Camp went some way to finally putting that question to bed, but a good Euro 2012 will put it to sleep entirely. The former Manchester United man has been simply incredible this season, scoring an emphatic 45 goals in La Liga and a further 10 in the Champions League. Although his record for Portugal, while impressive, is not quite so startling. In 88 games he has scored 32 times, and at the big tournaments he has been found wanting. At Euro 2008 he scored once, and found the net a solitary time at the 2010 World Cup, in the 7-0 thrashing of North Korea.
Fernando Torres (Spain)
Had David Villa not fractured his left tibia, he would be Spain's leading contender for the golden boot award. The Barcelona forward has shone in the big tournaments but with his participation this summer unsure, and should he return, just what state he will be in being uncertain, the need for goals could rest with Fernando Torres. His inclusion a couple of months ago would have been laughable, but that Champions League goal against Barcelona and his first hat-trick for Chelsea suggest the Torres of old may finally be back. Although if El Nino goes missing once more, a midfield that includes David Silva, Cesc Fabregas and Andre Iniesta means there are goals elsewhere.
Mario Balotelli (Italy)
Mario Balotelli is as much of a liability as he is a prodigious talent. But if he can keep the fireworks in the goalscoring department, the Manchester City striker has the ability to top the goal scoring charts. He has just the one goal for Italy so far, although he has only made seven appearances for the senior side. In the Premier League he has 13 goals for Manchester City. Italy coach Cesare Prandelli recently said of the 21-year-old, "He is a focal point of the national team." Perhaps a safer bet for the golden boot award coming from Italy would be Antonio Cassano. The AC Milan striker scored six goals during qualification, and despite a stroke earlier this season, has made a successful return to action.
Karim Benzema (France)
England fans will find out quite a bit about France early on in the competition as they are the first opponents for Roy Hodgson's side. If they are able to put the in-fighting to one side, Le Bleus could be a real contender in Poland and Ukraine, and the focal point of that attack will be Karim Benzema. The Real Madrid striker has notched 13 goals in his 42 appearances for the national side, and in La Liga for his club this season, he has a healthy return of 20 goals. At Euro 2008 he was ineffectual, failing to score as France were knocked out at the group stage - and he wasn't even selected for the last World Cup. But since then the 24-year-old has grown in maturity and will be one to watch - both by England and those eager for some goal action.
Wayne Rooney (England)
Wayne Rooney will miss the first two games of Euro 2012, and if things go badly for England, could conceivably travel to Poland and Ukraine to play in just one match. Therefore, the Manchester United number 10 has to be an outside bet in the golden boot stakes - but he shouldn't be ruled out. Rooney is a big game player, regularly coming to the fore in the matches that really matter - but in what way is never certain. At Euro 2004 it looked as though he could single-handedly end England's trophy doubt before he was injured in the quarter-finals. At the 2006 World Cup he was sent off. At the last World Cup he's best remembered for criticising England fans after a diabolical draw with Algeria. Who knows what 2012 will bring, but it would be folly to dismiss a player who has 28 goals for his country.
Robert Lewandowski (Poland)
Host nations have a habit of going far, and of the co-hosts, Poland would seem the likelier to progress thanks to what appears an easier group than Ukraine. If they make the home crowd happy, it'll probably be in part to Robert Lewandowski. The Borussia Dortmund number 9 chipped in with 22 goals in the Bundesliga this season to help his side lift the title. The 23-year-old, who Dortmund signed for what now seems like a paltry 4.5m euros in 2010, has been consistent for his country as well, currently sitting on 13 goals. "Pace, two-footedness, a strong header of the ball, and exceptional technique," are the qualities coach Juergen Klopp has highlighted.
Zlatan Ibrahimovic (Sweden)
Zlatan Ibrahimovic needed to be included in this countdown of golden boot contenders, if only because Zlatan wouldn't have it any other way. During Sweden's qualification campaign, the big man scored a very handy five goals and in Italy this season, he's been the stand out striker - topping the Serie A scoring charts with 28 goals for AC Milan. At times he's been criticised for going missing when it matters - whether that's true or not is debatable, but if the nation's captain is to win that argument, this may well be his last opportunity. Now 30-years-old, the former Barcelona striker is running out of time.
Robbie Keane (Republic of Ireland)
If you said the MLS was nothing more than a league for part-timers and washed up old stars, Robbie Keane might have a thing or two to say about it. The all-time leading goalscorer for Ireland made the switch across the pond last year, but rather than putting his feet up, he's been putting them to good use banging in the goals. After scoring on his debut for LA Galaxy, he then helped take them to victory in the MLS Cup Final. He joined Aston Villa on loan in January and scored three in seven games. In qualification for Euro 2012, Keane scored seven - the same amount as David Villa and Cristiano Ronaldo. There's goals in Keane - but his chances of winning the golden boot will have much to do with Ireland's ability to emerge from a group that includes Spain, Italy and Croatia.

Euro 2012 kicks-off in just a matter of weeks and in anticipation the Belfast Telegraph will be running down the key factors and people to keep an eye on in Poland and Ukraine this summer.

From free-kick takers to WAGs, blasts from the past to the youngsters, we'll have it all covered before things kick-off in Warsaw.

Here, we bring you the golden boot hopefuls for Euro 2012. These are the players who look most likely to be at the top of the scoring charts come the end of the tournament.

^^Click 'More Pictures' to launch gallery^^

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