It is said that legendary strikers cement their status once they deliver on the big stage, and what bigger stage than the FIFA World Cup? Strikers have possibly the most important task of all: scoring the goals. And we’ll undoubtedly be seeing plenty of those in Russia, as the best of the best will be eager to show their skills and take their place in history.
But who are they?
EDINSON CAVANI (URUGUAY)
Soccer runs deep in Edison Cavani’s family. Not only was his half-brother a professional player, but his father, Luis, also reached the pinnacle level of the sport. Cavani’s father was the one who first introduced Uruguay’s star to the game, and while Cavani was enthralled with soccer growing up, he also engaged in a diverse set of activities including gardening, fishing and camping.
Cavani joined his hometown team of Salto Uruguay at age 12 where he was coached by his father but later moved to Montevideo and then the Danubio programs. Now a great finisher, Cavani’s skill-set needed to be honed throughout his youth experience. While the striker was once known for missing scoring chances in his early years, hard work led to his ability to deposit chances at will, and ultimately the beginning of his pro career with Palermo in 2007.
Entering the tournament, the current PSG man has seemingly hit a second peak and there is little chance that he’ll be leaving Russia without a few goals to his name. Cavani has scored 33 goals with PSG this season while assisting seven in the process, directly contributing to 40 goals this season already. Cavani is PSG’s all-time top scorer after having only been at the club since 2013, a remarkable achievement considering the few years he’s had to accomplish it. With 50 international goals to his name, Cavani will be the man for the job this coming World Cup.
ROBERT LEWANDOWSKI (POLAND)
Blessed with an athletic pedigree from his mother and father, a professional volleyball player and soccer player respectively, Lewandowski’s original rise to the pro level was linear. The striker excelled from a young age, joined his hometown youth club of MKS Varsoivia Warsaw at age nine and signed his first pro contract with Legia Warsaw nine years later.
Where Lewandowski’s experience is atypical, however, is that after just one season he was let go by the Polish squad and told he was too slender to succeed in the game of soccer. Lewandowski’s trial is a testament to resilience. Instead of turning away from the game, he accepted a spot on a third-tier team in Poland.
After two seasons in which he led the third-tier league in scoring, Lewandowski was transferred to Lech Poznań in the top Polish League, subsequently won player of the year in the league, and went on to prove not only that his physical deficiencies would not hinder him in the domestic leagues of Poland, but that he could excel against world-class competition as well.
Today, Lewandowski is the prototypical goal scorer. He recently broke a European qualifying record recently after scoring 16 goals, the most ever in a single campaign, and it’s easy to see why. He can head, he can pass, he’s always in the right place at the right time; all attributes that helped him become Poland’s all-time goal scorer. With 29 goals this season for Bayern Munich, the polish striker seems to have kept up the form that helped him makes history with his country and will be looking for more of the same in Russia 2018.
CRISTIANO RONALDO (PORTUGAL)
Growing up on the Portuguese Island of Madeira, Cristiano Ronaldo acquired his soccer skills in the streets. Prior to stepping onto a real pitch, the superstar would play informal games with his friends, without nets, on the roads in Madeira, stopping intermittently for cars to pass. When Ronaldo began to play as a part of an organized team, his skill was evident, but as stated in the Player’s Tribune articled Ronaldo penned, his real motivation towards the game began when he and his father finally convinced his mother to come watch him play after she was initially uninterested in soccer.
“But Still, I would look to the sidelines before every match and see my dad standing there alone. Then one day – I will never forget this image – I was warming up and looked over and saw my mom and sisters sitting together on the bleachers … That’s all I cared about,” he wrote.
Cristiano is now on his way to becoming the greatest goal scorer the world has ever seen, both for club and country, a feat that illustrates just how ridiculous his numbers are. He’s scored 81 goals in 149 appearances with Portugal, making him the country’s greatest goal scorer ever and leaving former striker Pauleta’s record of 47 goals in 88 games in the dust. With Real Madrid it’s simply more of the same, holding the all-time record with 449 goals in 436 appearances, possibly being the only player to have more goals than matches played. His numbers speak for themselves and Cristiano particularly thrives under high-pressure and high-stake situations, making the World Cup the perfect setting for him to show his goal-scoring prowess.
Like many other world class talents, Neymar, originally referred to as Juninho, is the son of former pro football player. Neymar began kicking a soccer ball at the age of 2, and just a few years later his talent was evident. According a local scout, Betinho dos Santos in an interview conducted for Neymar’s institute, young Neymar’s skill with a soccer ball immediately stuck out.
“I saw the kid running around and he caught my attention,” Behtino said. He already had agility and coordination. Of course, he was very, very thin too. Then he started doing some tricks with the ball, tricks that a normal kid would never do, I was shocked.”
At just 10 years old, Neymar’s talents earned him a scholarship at a one of the most prestigious schools in Santos, Brazil, and word of his athletic prowess was spreading. Neymar was dubbed the next Robinho by Brazilians and was recruited to play for the youth academies of multiple European clubs such as Real Madrid. Instead of signing with a European academy, Neymar and his father decided to trust the development system in Santos, and eventually one of the world’s greatest talents made his professional debut with Santos in 2009.
Neymar has big shoes to fill in the World Cup as expectations are high for the most successful nation in the tournament’s history, but he has responded brilliantly. At just 26 Neymar is already Brazil’s fourth all-time goal scorer with 53 goals in 83 matches. Before missing a huge part of the season due to injury, he also managed to score 28 goals in 30 appearances for his club PSG. Neymar’s been Brazil’s icon since he jumped to the stage and all eyes will be on him when his team steps on the pitch in Russia.
LIONEL MESSI (ARGENTINA)
Lionel Messi grew up in Rosario, Argentina, and was gifted his first soccer ball at the age of 3. The Argentinian admits that he was essentially glued to the ball and to the game from that day forward. Messi’s soccer development proceeded seamlessly until the age of 11, when he was diagnosed with a growth hormone deficiency. The treatment that the deficiency required posed a financial burden on the Messi family, especially given the economic crisis that plagued Argentina through the late 1990’s to early 2000’s.
With the financial burden, Messi, who today only measures 5-foot-7, was repeatedly unable to get a number of his required injections, and his family subsequently emigrated to Spain where Messi was taken in by Barcelona FC’s academy. After realizing the potential that the young Messi possessed, Barcelona agreed to pay for the rest of his medical treatment – and investment that has paid off. Messi has now amassed 14 seasons with Barcelona FC and eight La Liga titles.
What Lionel Messi has done on the world stage is nothing short of amazing. Messi is currently the only player to have managed to score 91 goals in a calendar year and 73 in one season. To put it in perspective, a striker scoring 30 goals in a single season is considered to be an outstanding achievement, yet Messi managed to score 73. During the 2012-13 La Liga season he somehow managed to score against all 19 teams consecutively, further proof that he simply scores goals for fun and is a record-breaking machine. He is also Argentina’s all-time top goal scorer with 61, almost twice as many as the legendary Maradona, who retired with 34 goals.