Football/Soccer

Brazil's Neymar can grab the Golden Boot in Qatar

Neymar is the undoubted talisman in a quality-laden Brazil team and looks a fine bet to leave Qatar with the Golden Boot Picture by AP
Michael McWilliams

IN 10 of the last 11 World Cups, six goals would have been enough to walk off with the coveted Golden Boot, Ronaldo's romp to eight in 2002 being the exception.

Harry Kane followed the Oleg Salenko path to that number in 2018, getting his scoring done early even though England went all the way to the last four and therefore had a full quota of seven games.

Kane notched up five goals in an easy group before adding a penalty in the last-16, proving how valuable it can be in this market to have a soft opening section, while being handy from 12 yards is always a help.

The Spurs man is the 8/1 favourite to become the first man to be top goalscorer at successive World Cups, just ahead of French superstar Kylian Mbappe.

Another Gallic striker, Karim Benzema, can be backed at 14/1, and the fact he and Mbappe might share the goals could just do for their chances.

Lionel Messi at 11/1 will have followers as he seeks to add to six finals goals to date.

However, it is the other member of PSG's famed front three, Neymar, who could the man here at 14/1 (Unibet).

While Brazil have attacking riches to rival his club side, Neymar is undoubtedly the main man in Tite's system and he can go past Pele as his nation's all-time top scorer with a good few weeks.

He already has 75 international goals to his credit, while 11 goals in 14 games in Ligue 1 have him coming in to the tournament with confidence high.

Neymar (below) will also be on spot-kicks, and he might already be eyeing up a clash with a porous Cameroon side on November 28.

With Brazil expected to go deep into the tournament, Neymar represents a great each-way bet at 14/1, while the same can be said for his fellow South American Lautaro Martinez at 25/1 with Bet365.

Messi will take most of the attention for Argentina, but that may just free up space for the Inter striker, who has matched his illustrious team-mate almost goal-for-goal over the past couple of years, scoring seven in World Cup qualifying and three in the Copa America success last summer.

With Argentina fancied to go very close, their first-choice central striker has to come into the top scorer equation, and a price that is twice that of Messi makes great appeal.

A third South American in Uruguay's Darwin Nunez is also of interest at 50/1 (Bet365).

The Liverpool man has found his feet after a poor start with his new club, netting seven times in his last 10 outings, and club form will be more relevant than ever at this World Cup, given it comes in the middle of the season.

Nunez is still in the early stages of his international career, with three goals from 13 caps, but he is the type of wild card striker no defender likes playing against, and he could give a weak South Korean defence a very hard time in Group H.

I can definitely see Uruguay going as far as the last eight, so Nunez should get plenty of opportunities, and four goals would be enough to get place money at least.

Finally, I'll take a bit of a flyer on Dutch youngster Cody Gakpo at 80/1 (Sky Bet), based mainly on the fact his nation have the softest group of the lot alongside Ecuador, Senegal and Qatar.

Memphis Depay is the main marksman for Louis van Gaal's boys, but he has barely played for Barcelona this term and has to be rusty.

Gakpo, meanwhile, has been filling his boots with PSV Eindhoven and has the pace and power to trouble any rearguard, so he has to be worth a look at the price to succeed Kane as the World Cup's top marksman.

TOP GOALSCORER

Neymar, e/w, 14/1 (Unibet);

Lautaro Martinez, e/w, 25/1 (Bet365);

Darwin Nunez, e/w, 50/1 (Bet365);

Cody Gakpo, e/w, 80/1 (Sky Bet); top Dutch goalscorer, 6/1 (Bet Victor)

THE Golden Ball, awarded to the stand-out player at each World Cup finals, doesn't always go the way it should, with more than a hint of politics about some of the awards over the years.

Luka Modric was a deserving winner four years ago, but Lionel Messi was nowhere near the best player in 2014 when he picked up the award.

That said, there is every chance Messi could become the first player to win it twice in a month's time, and if Argentina go as well as I expect them to, there is no way the Fifa committee who come up with the short-list will let the media – who we are told decide the winner – pick anyone else.

Messi is a 9/1 favourite for the award with William Hill, and that could be a good alternative to backing Argentina outright as you're getting three more points for essentially the same bet.

ONE player who could rival Messi at a very big price is Denmark's Christian Eriksen (70/1, Unibet), and not just because of the feelgood factor about his rise back to the upper reaches of the game after his collapse at Euro 2020.

The Danes are a serious outfit these days, bulding on the momentum from their run to the last four at the Euros to romp through World Cup qualifying.

They have a real chance of topping Group D ahead a slightly unsettled French side, having beaten Didier Deschamps' men twice in the recent Nations League.

If they do top their section – which has to be a great bet at 3/1 (Bet365) – the draw opens up a little and a run to the latter stages is not beyond them, so Eriksen (below) might well be in that Fifa committee's thinking.

CROATIA are the only team to beat the Danes in 2022, and the 2018 finalists will be confident of giving a good account of themselves again.

Their midfield of Modric, Chelsea's Mateo Kovacic and Inter's Marcelo Brozovic will be the envy of many, and I love them at 5/2 to win Group F ahead of Belgium.

The Red Devils are not short of problems coming into Qatar – a defence as old as the hills and key men not playing at club level for starters – and Croatia are in fine form, having topped their section in the Nations League ahead of Denmark and France. That price is too big.

SERBIA are another team who had a good time of it in the Nations League, topping their second-tier group, and they also won their qualifying section for these finals ahead of Portugal.

They have real cutting edge in Ajax skipper Dusan Tadic, Fulham's in-form hitman Alexsandar Mitrovic, and Juventus striker Dusan Vlahovic, and while they've never reached the last-16, this could be their year.

Brazil are nailed-on to win Group G, but the Serbs could have the measure of a seasoned yet uninspiring Switerland in the race for second, so the 5/4 (Bet Victor) about them qualifying appeals.

PORTUGAL, meanwhile, have talent to burn but are coming in under a bit of a Cristiano Ronaldo-shaped cloud, and there seems to be unrest in the camp.

They're still strong favourites to win Group H, but Uruguay have to be worth a bet at 21/10 (Unibet) given the improvement under new manager Diego Alonso, who got a faltering qualifying campaign back on track and has an experienced and talented set of players to call on.

SAUDI Arabia have failed to score in seven of their last eight World Cup finals matches, and with only seven goals from 14 games in 2022, their problems up front haven't gone away. Drawn in Group C with Argentina, Mexico and Poland, the ‘Green Falcons' aren't likely to be shooting the lights out close to home this time around either, so get on them at 8/1 to be the lowest-scoring team in Qatar.

GROUP BETTING

Denmark to win Group D, 3/1 (Bet365);

Croatia to win Group F, 5/2 (William Hill);

Uruguay to win Group H, 21/10 (Unibet);

Serbia to qualify from Group G, 5/4 (Bet Victor)

SPECIALS

Argentina winners/Neymar top goalscorer double, 125/1 (William Hill);

Lionel Messi to win Golden Ball, 9/1 (William Hill);

Christian Eriksen to win Golden Ball, 70/1 (Unibet);

Saudi Arabia, lowest scoring team, 8/1 (Boylesports)

Football/Soccer