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Friday, May 21, 2010
How do top goal scorers do?

By Paul Carr
Special to

One of the highlights of the 2009-10 European club season was the proliferation of in-form strikers in the top four leagues.

Barcelona's Lionel Messi tallied 34 goals, most in La Liga since Ronaldo in 1996-97.

Udinese forward Antonio Di Natale scored 29 goals, most in Serie A since Luca Toni four years ago.

Chelsea striker Didier Drogba had 29 goals, a total topped only twice in the past 10 EPL seasons.

And who knows how many goals Wayne Rooney might have added to his total of 26 had injuries not slowed him late in the season.

These leaders don't even account for players who set career highs, like Carlos Tevez (23 goals) and Frank Lampard (22), or Real Madrid's lethal duo of Gonzalo Higuain (27) and Cristiano Ronaldo (26).

Except for Bosnia's Edin Dzeko, who led the Bundesliga with 22 goals, the leading scorers of the four major European leagues all are expected to play major roles at the World Cup. If history is any indication, the countries featuring top league scorers should expect great things in South Africa.

Perhaps surprisingly, only 36 of 77 players to lead one of the four top European leagues in scoring during a World Cup year have even reached the World Cup. But once there, an impressive 31 of those 36 players (86.1 percent) reached the knockout stage, and seven of them (19.4 percent) went on to win the title, most recently Toni with Italy in 2006.

If you take a look at the specific countries included in the historical data, the results aren't necessarily shocking, since 34 of those 36 teams were traditional soccer powers (defined as countries that have won a World Cup, plus Netherlands and Spain).

Regardless, this bodes well for Argentina, Ivory Coast and Italy, all of which feature a top scorer from the 2009-10 season. Nothing too surprising there, as Argentina and Italy are both group favorites, and Ivory Coast is expected to duel with Brazil and Portugal in Group G. But all of those countries would take a 1-in-5 chance at winning the tournament, or even a 50-50 shot at reaching the semifinals, as 17 of the 36 previous teams have done.

Here are the rounds reached for leading goal scorers from the big four European leagues:

On an individual level, results are more mixed. Fifteen of the 36 scoring leaders failed to score at the World Cup, while 12 of them scored at least three goals. Three claimed the Golden Shoe as the tournament's leading scorer: Germany's Miroslav Klose in 2006, England's Gary Lineker in 1986 and West Germany's Gerd Müller in 1970.

Could Messi, Drogba or Di Natale join this illustrious list? Perhaps. Ladbrokes currently ranks Messi the third betting favorite to win the Golden Boot at 9-1, trailing only Spain's David Villa and Rooney. Drogba is eighth at 25-1, and Di Natale is 27th at 66-1.

All of them will look to join this list of players to follow up a top European league scoring title with a world championship:

Paul Carr is a researcher for the ESPN Stats & Information group.