Ranked: The Top Goal Scorers in FIFA World Cup History
With the 2022 FIFA World Cup around the corner, soccer (or football) fans have their eyes set on how their favorite teams and players will perform.
But history shows that some players, and teams, are far more proficient in goals and wins than others. After all, with only 32 teams competing and the field quickly whittling down, there aren’t many chances for players to make their mark.
Who are history’s most prolific goal scorers? This series of graphics from Pablo Alvarez breaks down the top goal scorers in FIFA World Cup history, and their goals per appearances.
The World’s Cup Top Goal Scorers
Since the inaugural World Cup tournament in 1930, there have been 21 tournaments held across 17 countries.
At the first World Cup in Uruguay, 13 national teams competed for the championship trophy. The tournament then included 16 teams until 1982, when it expanded to 24 teams. Most recently, FIFA expanded to the current 32-team format starting in 1998.
And across all these tournaments, just 13 players have scored 10 or more goals:
|Rank||Player (* denotes active)||World Cup Goals||Tournaments|
|T8|| Gary Lineker||10||2|
The record for the most goals scored at the World Cup currently belongs to Germany’s Miroslav Klose with 16 goals across 4 tournaments, including one championship in 2014.
In fact, Germany had the most 10+ goal scorers of any country with five, including the only still-active player Thomas Müller.
Other well-known legends on the list include Ronaldo (not to be confused with Cristiano Ronaldo) and Pelé from Brazil, and Gary Lineker from England. But the title for the most goals scored in just one tournament goes to France’s Just Fontaine, who scored an incredible 13 goals in six matches in 1958.
Tracking World Cup Goals Per Appearances
Because of a diverse field and an intense qualification process, some teams play more games than others. Therefore, the above list skews towards teams and players with many caps.
So Alvarez also charted how World Cup goal scorers compare on a per-match basis. Unfortunately, FIFA match reports only fully tracked appearances and substitutions from 1970 onwards, though this still gives a clear picture of some of the world’s most effective (and least effective) goal scorers:
Again, the top goal scorers Klose and Ronaldo appear very prominently with 15+ goals, but other legends with a similar number of appearances like Maradona, Messi, and Cristiano Ronaldo weren’t as successful on a per-match basis.
What happens when we take the top World Cup goal scorers with 5 or more goals from 1970 onwards and look at their goals/match rate?
|Player||World Cup Goals (1970–2018)||Matches Played||Goals/Match|
|Robin van Persie||6||17||0.35|
|Jon Dahl Tomasson||5||6||0.83|
Most players expectedly scored under one goal/match, but five players stand out:
- Russia’s Oleg Salenko with an incredible 2 goals/match (6 goals in 3 matches).
- Germany’s Gerd Müller with 1.08 goals/match.
- Italy’s Christian Vieri, England’s Harry Kane, and the Czech Republic’s Tomáš Skuhravý with 1 goal/match.
Future Top Goal Scorers
With many players in Qatar 2022 vying for both the national championship and the Golden Boot, which is awarded to the tournament’s top goal scorer, the rankings are always ripe to change.
And future tournaments will likely offer more goal-scoring opportunities. The 2026 World Cup to be held in Canada, the U.S., and Mexico will be the first to feature 48 teams after FIFA voted to expand the tournament.
Which active players, or up-and-coming talents, will be next to climb the all-time goal scoring rankings?
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