After yet more thrilling, late drama last night it became clear that international football is well and truly alive. Well, everywhere except Britian. We’ve all seen the videos of emotional commentators as their country secured qualification or endured yet more heartbreak.
On an individual basis it was Lionel Messi who stole the show. Once again, he came to Argentina’s rescue and scored the crucial goals away at Ecuador. With none of his teammates getting on the scoresheet for over a year, it posed the question: does any team depend on one man as much as Argentina do with Messi?
Let’s take a look at the qualified nation’s top scorers in qualifying and the percentage of goals they scored to find out.
READ MORE: World Cup play-offs guide
1. Robert Lewandowski (Poland) – 57.14%
The record goalscorer for a World Cup qualifying campaign, Robert Lewandowski, scored almost 60% of Poland’s goals. The Bayern Munich striker became the country’s all-time leading marksman earlier in the week and his goal against Montenegro saw him extend that to an impressive 51 goals.
Despite having young striker Arkadiusz Milik for competition, no one quite carries a nation like Lewandowski does. Even recognised names such as Lukasz Piszczek, Grzegorz Krychowiak and Jakub Blaszczykowski must be thankful to be playing alongside a striker who doesn’t disappoint.
There’s a suggestion from some quarters that Lewandowski is underrated when people talk about who the best forwards in world football are. At Borussia Dortmund he scored an impressive 103 goals in 187 appearances. With Bayern he seems to be getting even better: a staggering 122 goals in 158 matches. When you have someone that good in your squad, you always have a chance of winning.
2. Cristiano Ronaldo (Portugal) – 46.87%
I suppose this name will come as no surprise to you either. 15 goals in a qualifying campaign equals the old record but he fell one short of Lewandowski’s tally. Take nothing away from yet another dominating display in his country’s shirt as the European Champions earned their spot in Russia.
While Andre Silva represents the future, he’s still a long way off leading his country like Ronaldo does. A key aspect to the Real Madrid’s man game is the ability to make a difference even when he isn’t at his best. The team knows they can depend on Cristiano to get the job done. They just need to make sure they’re solid enough at the back and keep feeding the ball into their talisman.
Cristiano spoke last year of his desire to play until he was 41. At the moment, a 41-year-old Ronaldo looks a better bet than anyone else to lead the line for Portugal.
3. Mohammed Salah (Egypt) – 45.45%
Liverpool’s new wing sensation, Mohammed Salah, is equally as key for Egypt. We saw the video of a man openly weeping as Egypt qualified for the World Cup finals. This was the first time they’ve managed to do this since 1990 and it meant a lot to the country on the whole.
Salah isn’t a striker but similarly to Ronaldo, his overall ability means he’s needed to score goals as well as provide them. Most outsiders would have perhaps chosen Ghana to go through but it was down to Salah scoring nearly half of Egypt’s goals which made the difference.
4. Lionel Messi (Argentina) – 36.84%
Out of all the players in this list, it’s arguably Lionel Messi who shoulders the most pressure. With Leo playing in an Argentina side which lacks any real balance, so much depends on him. Whenever the side wins he is proclaimed the hero but lose and it’s all his fault too.
Argentina’s qualifying campaign has been a nightmare from the start but without Messi there’s no chance they’d be playing in Russia next summer. There’s an incredible amount of attacking talent for Jorge Sampaoli to pick from but only one name matters. Forget Sergio Aguero, Angel Di Maria and even Paolo Dybala. None of them help alleviate the pressure on Messi.
Messi is responsible for 7 of Argentina’s 19 goals. No one else has scored for the national team in nearly a year. At the World Cup, he’ll need to do it all by himself – or be blamed again.
5. Mohammed Al-Sahlawi (Saudi Arabia) 35.55%
Here’s the first of two strikers from the AFC Asian Cup section and one who scored a superb 16 goals. At 30 years old, Mohammed Al-Sahlawi isn’t likely to garner too much attention but his record in qualifying was fantastic. He’s a Saudi international who has played in his country’s league throughout his career and is now a national hero.
This will be Saudi Arabia’s first World Cup appearance since 2006 and their success will depend on Al-Sahlawi finding the back of the net on a regular basis.
6. Edinson Cavani (Uruguay) – 31.25%
You probably expected to see Luis Suarez leading the scoring charts for Uruguay but it’s instead Edison Cavani. There’s an argument his goalscoring record isn’t respected half as much as it should be. Cavani was responsible for 10 of his country’s 32 goals in qualifying. Suarez has largely struggled with fitness and form and only managed five goals.
The PSG forward has 11 in 11 for his club this season and remains a key man at international level too. For Cavani the question mark against his name is whether he can perform on the biggest stage. It’s important he helps lessen the burden on his strike partner Suarez. As a duo, they aren’t many better on the world stage. This will probably be the last World Cup for both of them. It’s now or never.
7. Sardar Azmoun (Iran) – 30.55%
Next up in the one-man show list is Iran’s Sardar Azmoun. Of course the qualifying campaign in the AFC Asian Cup is a little different to that in Europe. Seeded teams need to go through two lots of group stages as opposed to one.
Azmoun scored 7 out of Iran’s 26 goals in the first group stage, then 4 out of 10 in the second one. The young striker is only 22 years old and currently plays in Russia for Rubin Kazan.
8. Aleksandar Mitrovic (Serbia) – 30%
It’s been a tough start to life in the Premier League for Aleksandar Mitrovic. The Newcastle forward finally got a start against West Ham – and scored – but was then hit with a three-match ban. In the last game he failed to make the squad altogether but at international level, Mitrovic is essential.
Serbia finished top of their group and his late equalisers in both games against Wales turned out to be pivotal. Those two points saw them finish ahead of Ireland and the four dropped by Gareth Bale’s men saw them miss out on a play-off spot. If he continues to struggle for game time at Newcastle, Russia might be the perfect place to showcase what he’s capable of.
9. James Rodriguez (Colombia) – 28.57%
Another familiar name is up next in James Rodriguez. It was the previous World Cup in 2014 which saw James get his big money move to Real Madrid. He enjoyed success in Spain but wanted to play a more prominent role in the team. This saw him join Bayern Munich in the summer on an initial loan deal.
For his country, there’s no question he starts every available game. James is the lifeblood of this Colombia side and loves the responsibility which comes with it. Perhaps knowing he is untouchable, it gives him the license to run the show. His six goals made a key difference as they avoided a potential play-off game.
10. Harry Kane (England) – 27.77%
As long as international tournaments aren’t played in August, there aren’t many more dependable strikers around than Harry Kane. His ‘Roy of the Rovers’ rise to fame shows no sign of slowing down three years on. For both England and Spurs it’s crucial he stays fit.
It was another forgettable yet at the same time satisfactory qualifying campaign for England but the team still looks unfinished. The inability to try new systems or when they do, give them sufficient time to gel, upsets the balance of the team. This is why Kane is so important.
No one is expecting England to challenge the established elite in Russia. But with a fully fit, scoring goals for fun striker in their ranks, you can’t rule out them causing a shock or two either.
The rest of the teams top scorer and the percentage of goals they scored:
Romelu Lukaku – Belgium (25.58%)
Gylfi Sigurdsson – Iceland (25%)
Victor Moses – Nigeria (23.07%)
Antoine Griezmann/Olivier Giroud – France (22.22%)
Gabriel Torres – Panama (20%)
Heung-Min Son – South Korea (18.42%)
Christian Bolaños/Marco Ureña – Costa Rica (16%)
Keisuke Honda – Japan (15.90%)
Gabriel Jesus/Paulinho/Neymar – Brazil (14.63%)
David Silva/Alvaro Morata/Diego Costa/Isco – Spain (13.88%)
Hirving Lozano – Mexico (13.79%)
Sandro Wagner/Thomas Muller – Germany (11.62%)