Who has scored the most goals at the World Cup? We look over the top scorers in men’s FIFA World Cup history, since the competition began in 1930.
16 Goals: Miroslav Klose
No player has as many goals at World Cup finals as German striker Miroslav Klose, who scored 16 times in 24 appearances across four separate tournaments. The only other players to score in as many as four World Cup tournaments are compatriot Uwe Seeler, Cristiano Ronaldo and Pelé.
Klose made his World Cup debut in the 2002 tournament in Japan and South Korea and got off to the best start possible, scoring a hat-trick in Germany’s emphatic 8-0 win over Saudi Arabia in the Sapporo Dome. He’s one of 13 players to score a hat-trick on their World Cup debut, but no player has managed to do it since Klose on this day in June 2002.
Klose went on to score in all three of Germany’s group stage games at the 2002 World Cup, but failed to score in his four knockout games, as they finished as losing finalists to Brazil – who ended with the top scorer at the tournament, with Ronaldo’s eight goals leading them to victory.
The German striker added another five goals at the 2006 World Cup in his home country – this time enough to secure the Golden Boot at the tournament. Four more goals followed in the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, before adding two more in 2014 in Brazil to overtake Ronaldo’s tally of 15 goals – the all-important 16th coming in front of Ronaldo himself, who was watching in the stands in Belo Horizonte as Brazil emphatically lost 7-1 to Germany.
Eleven of Klose’s World Cup goals came in 10 Group Stage matches, while just five came in 11 knockout matches in the tournament – none of those coming in his two appearances in a World Cup final (2002 and 2014).
Overall, Klose’s 16 World Cup goals came from just 63 shots – a phenomenal record of converting 25.4% of his shots across the four tournaments he played in.
15 Goals: Ronaldo
Whilst Ronaldo no longer holds the record as top scorer at the World Cup, his tally of 15 goals in just 19 appearances across three tournaments is rightly admired.
His debut World Cup tournament came in 1998, with four goals in seven appearances across the tournament in France. His Brazil side lost 3-0 in the final to host nation France, with Ronaldo’s appearance in the game shrouded in mystery, after originally being left out of the Brazilian starting XI, before appearing in the next edition handed out minutes later.
His appearance at the 2002 World Cup was less controversial, with the superstar picking up the Golden Boot with eight goals in seven games, including both strikes in the 2-0 final victory over Germany in Yokohama in which he won the man of the match award. Forming a lethal attack alongside Rivaldo and Ronaldinho, Brazil’s success in the tournament never looked in doubt.
The most impressive aspect of Ronaldo’s performances in 2002 was that he spent a long spell out injured prior to the tournament following a cruciate ligament rupture two years before the finals, meaning his missed Brazil’s entire qualification campaign for the 2002 World Cup.
Despite finishing as the top scorer in the CONMEBOL qualifiers for the 2006 World Cup with 10 goals, there were question marks over Ronaldo’s fitness and physical state ahead of the tournament. He ended with three goals in five games before Brazil’s exit to host nation Germany in the quarter-finals, taking his overall tally in World Cup final tournaments to 15 – a record at the time, overtaking Gerd Müller’s record that had stood since 1974 (14 goals).
14 Goals: Gerd Müller
Gerd Müller managed to score 14 goals in just two World Cup tournaments, with his 10 goals on the way to winning the Golden Boot in the 1970 World Cup one of only three occasions that a player has hit double figures in a single edition. In fact, no player has scored as many goals as Müller did in 1970 across any of the last 15 men’s World Cup final tournaments.
The West German striker scored in each of his first five World Cup appearances, including back-to-back hat-tricks in games against Bulgaria and Peru at Mexico 1970, with just three days between the trebles. Only one other player has scored a hat-trick in two consecutive World Cup appearances, that being Hungary’s Sándor Kocsis in 1954 (also over a four-day period).
Müller scored in every game at the 1970 World Cup up to and including the semi-final defeat to Italy (two goals) but failed to score in the third/fourth playoff against Uruguay.
The 1974 World Cup saw Bayern Munich record scorer Müller add four more goals in seven appearances, including the winning goal in the 2-1 victory over the Netherlands in the final in his own fans at the Olympiastadion in Munich.
Müller held the all-time goalscoring record in the World Cup with 14 goals for 32 years, before Brazilian Ronaldo overtook him in 2006. He was known throughout his career as one of the best strikers inside the goal area – all 14 of his World Cup goals came inside the penalty box, with half (7) coming inside the six-yard box.
13 Goals: Just Fontaine
The record for the most goals in a single World Cup finals belongs to French striker Just Fontaine, who scored 13 goals in six matches at the 1958 tournament. This was the only ever World Cup tournament that he played in, but he certainly made it count.
He scored in every single one of his six appearances at the 1958 tournament in Sweden, with his 13 goals more than double the next highest scorers at the finals that year – Pelé and Helmut Rahn both with six goals.
The French striker is one of only three players to score at least three goals in two separate matches at a World Cup finals tournament, alongside Sándor Kocsis (1954) and Gerd Müller (1970), thanks to a hat-trick against Paraguay and four more goals against Germany in the 1958 World Cup.
Despite his phenomenal record in 1958, where he scored 57% of France’s 23 goals, he could only help his nation achieve third place, after losing in the semi-finals to eventual winners Brazil.
Fontaine retired in 1962 at the age of just 28 due to injury, with the World Cup being robbed of seeing one of its greatest scorers from appearing in more than one single tournament.
12 Goals: Pelé
Pelé ranks fifth for the most goals scored at World Cup finals, with his tally of 12 across four tournaments. Whilst he never won a Golden Boot award, he did win the Best Player award at the 1970 World Cup thanks to four goals and six assists on the way to helping Brazil to the title – one of three World Cup tournaments won by Pelé, a record tally.
Not only was Pelé the youngest player to ever score in a World Cup final, when he netted against Sweden in 1958 at 17 years and 249 days old, he is the youngest player to ever play in a World Cup final.
Ten days prior to the 1958 final, he became the youngest scorer at a World Cup by scoring against Wales aged just 17 years and 239 days old, and then he followed this up by becoming the youngest to score a hat-trick at a World Cup on 24 June 1958 versus France – both records that still stand to this day.
Pelé wasn’t just about scoring goals, either. Since detailed data collection began in 1966, no player has assisted more World Cup goals in a single tournament (six in 1970) than the Brazilian legend.
At the time of writing, Pelé remains the record men’s scorer for Brazil in international football with 77 goals, although Neymar is now only three goals away from equalling this tally for the Seleção (74).
11 Goals: Jürgen Klinsmann and Sándor Kocsis
Both German striker Jürgen Klinsmann and Hungarian legend Sándor Kocsis scored 11 goals in World Cup finals tournaments.
Kocsis scored 68 goals overall for Hungary across their golden era, with the only player to score more in international football for his nation being another legend, Ferenc Puskás (85).
Kocsis only ever appeared in one World Cup tournament for Hungary, at the 1954 finals in Switzerland. In that tournament, he scored 11 goals in just five games, with Frenchman Just Fontaine the only player to score more often in a single World Cup (13 in 1958).
He holds the record for the shortest period between two hat-tricks at a World Cup (four days) alongside German legend Gerd Müller after he scored three goals on his debut against Korea Republic on 17 June 1954 before going one better (four goals) against Germany on 20 June.
Kocsis scored in every game at the 1954 World Cup before the ‘Miracle of Bern’ final against Germany, which Hungary went on to lose 3-2 despite leading 2-0 inside eight minutes.
Klinsmann made a scoring debut in the World Cup, as West Germany defeated Yugoslavia 4-1 at Italia 90, before adding further goals at the tournament versus United Arab Emirates and the Netherlands.
The 1994 World Cup in the USA was his most successful in front of goal, scoring five goals in five games before the Germans exited the tournament at the quarter-final stage in a shock defeat to Bulgaria. Had they gone further, there’s a good chance Klinsmann could have got the two goals needed to surpass both Hristo Stoichkov and Oleg Salenko, who shared the Golden Boot at the tournament with six goals each.
His final World Cup tournament came in 1998 when the German striker scored three goals at the age of 34 – his 11th and final World Cup goal coming against Mexico in a 2-1 victory.
10 Goals: Six Players
The six players who have scored 10 goals at World Cup finals are Grzegorz Lato (Poland), Teofilo Cubillas (Peru), Gabriel Batistuta (Argentina), Gary Lineker (England) and Germans Helmut Rahn and Thomas Müller.
Müller is the only one of those players – and of players to have scored more than 10 goals – that could extend his goal tally in Qatar at the 2022 World Cup.
The German international has scored 10 goals in 16 World Cup appearances so far, including five in six appearances at the 2010 tournament in South Africa, where he not only won the Golden Boot, but also picked up the Best Young Player award at the finals. He followed that up in 2014 with five more goals – a tally only beaten by Colombian James Rodríguez (six goals).
Since the 2010 World Cup, where Müller made his debut, no player has played more World Cup tournament matches than the experienced German (16), while he is also the top scorer (10) and player with the most assists (six).
Unfortunately for Müller, he was unable to add to either his number of goals or his assist tally in the 2018 tournament in Russia despite playing three matches at the tournament. He’ll be looking to correct that in 2022.
Who could break into the leading scorers in 2022?
As well as Thomas Müller, the trio of Cristiano Ronaldo, Luis Suárez and Lionel Messi could be looking to break into the ‘double-figures club’ for World Cup goals at the 2022 tournament.
Amazingly, neither Cristiano Ronaldo (six appearances for Portugal) or Messi (eight appearances for Argentina) have ever scored a goal in a World Cup knockout match. The Portuguese has scored seven goals in 11 group stage games, while Messi has netted six goals in 11 matches in the groups.
Suárez has scored seven World Cup goals for Uruguay, with five coming in the group stage and two more coming in a 2010 round of 16 game against Korea Republic.
Messi is two goals (six vs. eight) and two appearances (19 vs. 21) off Diego Maradona’s all-time World Cup tallies for Argentina, so he’ll be looking to pass those tallies at Qatar 2022 – he’ll need four more goals overall to become the joint-leading Argentina scorer at World Cup finals alongside Gabriel Batistuta, however.
Ronaldo is two goals away from the legendary Eusébio’s tally of nine goals in just six games at World Cup finals for the Portuguese national team, while Suárez needs one more to equal the top scoring Uruguayan in World Cup tournaments – Oscar Miguez (eight).
Premier League star Harry Kane grabbed the Golden Boot at the 2018 World Cup in Russia, as England reached the semi-finals – scoring against Tunisia (two), Panama (three) and Colombia, before failing to find the net in his final three games against Sweden, Croatia or Belgium. While it could have been more if he’d kept up his scoring run four years ago, his current tally of six goals in six games means that he only needs four goals to equal Gary Lineker’s tally of 10 World Cup goals for the Three Lions.
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