He may be way down the list when it comes to discussing candidates to win the Golden Boot at the 2018 World Cup, but Luis Suárez cannot be ruled out. Having just scored 31 goals for Barcelona in the 2017/18 season, the centre-forward has shown that he can still be a menace for opposing defences and he heads to Russia with five goals in his past eight competitive matches for Barcelona.
At an international level, he still managed five goals, including two on the final matchday, in South American qualifying even though he was suspended for the first four matches of the qualifying campaign, as part of his ban for the biting incident at the past World Cup. He may now be 31, but he’s still a world-class striker.
Of course, the candidates to win the World Cup’s Golden Boot awards generally belong to teams who are among the favourites, such as Brazil’s Neymar or Gabriel Jesus, Argentina’s Lionel Messi, France’s Antoine Griezmann or Germany’s Timo Werner. In theory, this makes sense, although only once since 1982 has the Golden Boot winner actually been on the winning team, with Ronaldo breaking the trend with his eight goals in 2002.
Last time out, for example, James Rodríguez claimed the award, even though his Colombia side were knocked out in the quarter-finals. He netted six times, with half of those goals coming in the group stages, as Colombia topped one of the tournament’s weaker groups, which also contained Greece, Ivory Coast and Japan. A sizable haul of goals in the group stages can, then, set a forward up well for a run at the Golden Boot.
At this year’s tournament, there is one group which is clearly weaker than all the rest: Group A. Hosts Russia were made a top seed, so this was always going to be one of the more manageable groups, but the fact that Egypt and Saudi Arabia, the third-lowest-ranked team in Pot Three and the lowest-ranked team in Pot 4 were also cast into this group makes it especially poor and especially winnable for Uruguay.
Luis Suárez and Edinson Cavani must, therefore, be licking their lips. Not only do they get to take on the defences of Saudi Arabia and Russia in their final two matches, but they will take on Egypt first when Mohamed Salah is not expected to be back yet from the injury he suffered in the Champions League final. We all saw how his departure against Real Madrid made Liverpool weaker defensively by encouraging the Spanish side’s back line to step about 10 metres higher up the pitch. Similarly, Salah’s absence against Uruguay should indirectly help the South American nation’s attack, and help Suárez to build up a sizable early lead in the Golden Boot race.
It wouldn’t be a surprise at all for the Barcelona No.9 to have four or five goals to his name by the end of the first round, not least with Suárez being their penalty taker. In the next round, they are likely to face one of Spain or Portugal, which would admittedly be a very tough opponent. But if Suárez can even add one more goal here, he could be on half a dozen goals even if Uruguay are knocked out in the last 16.
Again, only once since 1982 – again, it’s Ronaldo in 2002 – has a striker passed the six-goal mark for the whole tournament. And if Uruguay manages to pass through their last 16 ties, there is a good chance that their opponent in the quarter-finals would be Argentina, whose defence can be breached.
Of course, many of the players ranked ahead of Suárez in the Golden Boot race are justifiably so. Yet Los Charrúas’ frontman should not be ruled out, as he has a great opportunity in front of him to take an early lead. He could be the surprise man of the tournament and two-time winners Uruguay, who qualified as the second-best South American nation, could be the surprise team of the tournament.