England’s forward Harry Kane who scored a hat-trick holds the match ball at the end of the Russia 2018 World Cup Group G football match between England and Panama at the Nizhny Novgorod Stadium in Nizhny Novgorod on June 24, 2018. / AFP PHOTO / Martin BERNETTI
After Cristiano Ronaldo scored that emphatic hat-trick against Spain, many believed he’d just pick off from where he left off in the European season. After all, it was ‘meek’ Iran and Morocco left to face off in the group. Most figured it’d just be akin to a Champions League night against APOEL.
A day before Ronaldo’s heroics against Spain, prolific Egyptian Mohamed Salah was reduced to thumb twiddling and feet-tapping on the bench as he couldn’t unleash his goalscoring magic with his wand of a left-foot.
Salah had been recuperating from Sergio Ramos’ wrestling-like throw-down that injured his shoulder but couldn’t get fit in time for Egypt’s opener against Uruguay. Salah returned for the game against Russia to score a goal from the spot but he could only add one more before Egypt exited the tournament.
Ronaldo got out of the group stages with a beard and four goals but he and Portugal couldn’t get past the solid Atleti central defensive pair playing for Uruguay.
For Lionel Messi, who at different times during the World Cup wore the forlorn, wearied look, it wasn’t to be the tournament that enshrines him as the G.O.A.T. Messi scored just one goal before Argentina were blitzed by Kylian Mbappe and the French side in the second round. Mbappe had scored against Peru before his brace against the Messi-led side. His snappy movement, quick thinking and precision in front of goal certainly has shown him up as a constant threat against any defence.
Although Mbappe couldn’t add to his goal tally against Uruguay in the quarter-final, the teenager still has two games to add more to his three goals as Les Bleu face Belgium in the semi-finals. Perhaps we’d get the youngest highest goal scorer in the history of the World Cup in Mbappe.
For France’s opponents, Belgium, Romelu Lukaku leads the goal charge as the Red Devils’ goal glut in the World Cup has them with 14 goals. Lukaku has accounted for four of those. The striker had his brief slightly altered in the quarterfinal game against Brazil, dropping deep to get more involved in play rather than staying up top finishing moves. His impact in the game against the Selecao cannot be understated as he laid the assist for Kevin De Bruyne to score Belgium’s second goal.
However, Neymar’s impact for Brazil has been replete with histrionics and melodrama, hitting the turf and overplaying tackles against him. He exited the tournament with two goals, an enhanced acting reputation and as the butt of memes and jokes on the internet.
Although the Manchester United striker Lukaku scored since Belgium’s second game against Tunisia, he sits in second place on the behind Harry Kane. Lukaku will hope to put a firm challenge on Kane’s push for the Golden Boot as Belgium. The England striker leads the goal-scoring charts with six goals, half of them coming from the penalty spot.
Kane could become the first English player to win the Golden Boot since Gary Lineker in 1986 as the Three Lions fantasise about the homecoming of football. Six goals have won all but three of the World Cup Golden boots since 1974. Two of the last three World Cups was won with five goals; Miroslav Klose won it in 2006 and Diego Forlan in 2010. Kane still leads the race and is odds-on to score another in the semi-final fixture against Croatia.
Curiously, England’s marksman hasn’t played as an orthodox centre-forward. The Tottenham striker has been dropping deep towards play for runners to get in behind him. With two goals from set-pieces and a fortuitous heeled finish, Kane hasn’t been prolific from open-play. Perhaps, the odd tug from Domagoj Vida on Raheem Sterling’s shirt will have VAR weigh in to award a penalty to England before Kane arrows in the top corner from the spot.
The race is still on with Mbappe, Lukaku and Kane all having two games left in the World Cup.