There have been more than 2,000 goals scored at the FIFA World Cup since the inaugural edition of the tournament in 1930, and many of those have come from the boot, head, or even hand of some of the game’s greatest ever players. A look at the top goalscorers at the event reads like a who’s who of superstar footballers, and these are the five players who sit at the top of that list.
- Miroslav Klose
Miroslav Klose made a name for himself throughout the early 21st century as one of the most lethal strikers of the era, and it was with the German national side that he shone brightest. In all he made 137 appearances for his country and scored 71 goals, 16 of which came in his four World Cup appearances. The majority of those came in 2002 (five), 2006 (five) and 2010 (four), but unfortunately that didn’t translate into success for the Germans. In 2014, he played in what he had previously announced would be his final World Cup, and though he was 36 by this stage and no longer at his best, he nonetheless played an important role alongside names such as Sami Khedira and Thomas Mueller as Germany went on to win the tournament for the fourth time. The 2018 World Cup was the first the Germans played without him in 20 years, and it was perhaps no coincidence that they were disastrously bundled out in the Group Stage.
Winner of two Ballon d’Or awards and three-time Player of the Year, Ronaldo is one of the most celebrated players in football history, and it’s little surprise that he is also regarded as one of the greatest World Cup players. He was part of the Brazilian squad at the game’s biggest event on four occasions, but he didn’t enter the field of play in 1994, meaning all his scoring came in 1998, 2002 and 2006. Undoubtedly his best performance at the event came in 2002, when he led Brazil to World Cup glory by scoring eight goals despite having only recently returned from a serious knee injury. That gave the country its fifth World Cup win, making them the most successful team in the tournament’s history, and if Brazil’s $6 odds to win the 2022 World Cup are anything to go by, they might just extend the gap on the rest next year.
- Gerd Müller
The second German to feature on this list, Müller made a name for himself in the ‘70s as one of the most dangerous scorers in the game’s history. In the 62 games in which he represented Germany he scored an incredible 68 goals, and this strike rate well and truly translated to the World Cup. The 14 goals he scored at the tournament came in just two separate years, with 1970 the most prolific of them. He scored ten goals at that event, which is to this day the third most in a single World Cup, but it was in 1974 that he scored his most important one. He finished with a comparatively low four goals that year, but his fourth gave Germany a 2-1 lead that they would not relinquish in the World Cup final.
- Just Fontaine
Were it not for injury, Just Fontaine would almost certainly be sitting atop this list, and quite possibly very comfortably. The Frenchman was forced to retire at the age of just 28 and managed only a solitary appearance at the World Cup, but it’s safe to say he made the most of his time there. France was knocked out in the semi-finals and Fontaine played just six games in total, but in that time he scored an average of over two goals per game for a tournament total of 13, which remains the most in history at a single World Cup. He hit the back of the net in every game, scored multiple times on four occasions, and finished the tournament with an incredible four goals in the third-place play-off.
Recognised officially as ‘The Greatest’ by FIFA - and unofficially by a large portion of Brazilians - it’s no surprise to see Pele on this list despite the fact that he spent a lot of time further up the field than any of the above players. He had a decorated World Cup career, representing Brazil in 1958, 1962, 1966 and 1970. Brazil won three of those tournaments, and this success was in no small part due to Pele. In 1958 he was awarded the Best Young Player Award as well as the Silver Ball, but it was at the 1970 event that he was at his most industrious, scoring six goals and winning the Golden Ball to round out the career of one of the most successful World Cup performers in the game’s history.
2021 might be the year of the Euros, but the FIFA World Cup is unequivocally the grandest stage in world football, and is where many superstars of the game have made a name for themselves. The six World Cup wins shared among the five aforementioned players is testament to their influence on the event, and is why, as the leading goalscorers in World Cup history, they are recognised as some of the best players to ever grace the field.