SPORTS

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May 26, 2006

This World Cup promises surprises and goals aplenty

What do Salvatore Schillachi, Oleg Salenko, and Davor Suker have in common? Each was an unlikely winner of the widely coveted World Cup Golden Boot. More often than not, the tournament’s top marksman is a complete shock. Let’s take a look at some of the hot and not-so-hot candidates.

Omar: When it comes to the usual suspects, I’m going to plump for Dutch goal-machine, Ruud Van Nistelrooy. He has the desire, the technique, and, most importantly, the irrepressible shark-sense. In a word: lethal.

Mark: There’s no doubt that Van Nistelrooy is the complete package for a striker, but it’s going to be hard for him to be top goal scorer after the Netherlands goes out in the first round. I can tell you who definitely won’t be top scorer: Peter Crouch. If I were Sven Goran Eriksson, I’d drop him to the bench and play Steven Gerrard and Joe Cole up front, unless of course St. Michael [Owen] is actually fit, but even then, he’s expendable.

OA: I’ve lost track of the number of times that the man dubbed ‘Babygol’ [Owen] by the Italian press has served his critics a slice of humble pie. The bookmakers have him at 12–1, and that seems like a bargain to me. Scanning down the list, I’m amazed to see that Swedish hitman Henrik Larsson is 50–1 in spite of his match-winning (or is that -stealing?) performance off the bench in the UEFA Champions League final earlier this month.

ML: That’s ridiculous. And scanning the same list, I see Didier Drogba at 40–1. I’m by no means the biggest fan of that cheating, diving, battering ram, but I have to say he’s effective. And when he pulls on the orange and white of the Ivory Coast, he’s even better. It’s scandalous, I know, but I would even consider putting some money down on this one. But if I had to pick one person for the Golden Boot, I’d have to say Miroslave Klose. He’ll be leading the attack for the home nation, and we all know what it means to be playing a World Cup in your own country (see: Korea). Germany isn’t good, but they may go far, and Klose will likely be scoring the goals to take them there.

OA: That certainly seemed to the case when Alan Shearer nabbed the Golden Boot upon English shores in Euro ’96. However, nobody really expected Hristo Stoichkov and Salenko to share the prize in 1994 (notwithstanding a very accommodating performance by the Cameroonian defense as they shipped five of the Russian’s tournament-topping six goals). Who will be my dark horse? Czech striker Milan Baros. I realize that he was top scorer in Euro 2004, but his consistently atrocious performances at club level either side of that tournament justify his classification as an underdog rather than front-runner.

ML: Speaking of winners, I’ll go to mine. I’m going with France to win it over Brazil in a rematch of 1998. It’s not so much that I think France is the best team in the tournament, but I think that lifting the trophy again would be a fitting end to Zinedine Zidane’s career. The best player of this generation has had a tough few years, but he’s come out of international retirement to lead his country. And who could resist seeing him sign off in style with another 2-goal outing in the final? Actually, just kidding. Brazil is going to win. And it doesn’t even matter who the runner-up is.

OA: If Wayne Rooney is fit, then it has to be England, with Roonaldo upstaging his equally rotund namesake, Ronaldo, and bringing to an end 40 years of hurt.

Emerald: I still hold out hope for Argentina. Despite several surprising omissions from the squad, no one can deny the explosive skills of players like Juan Roman Riquelme, Hernan Crespo, Carlos Tevez, and Lionel Messi. They’re in the Group of Death for the second World Cup running, but if they can get past that stage, they’ll go far. Although Crespo’s goals in the qualification rounds got them to the World Cup, look for youngsters Messi and Palacio to show off their attacking prowess.