The World Cup top scorers of all time list differs heavily from the stereotypical list of who the greatest players of all time are.
If anything, that signals that heroes are made in the monthlong competition that happens every four years. For example, Cristiano Ronaldo has seven goals in his four World Cup competitions. That puts him with players like Luis Suarez or Dutch leader Johnny Rep in a tie for 30th.
Lionel Messi, who scored one goal less than Ronaldo in the same four competitions, is in a pack of 26 players to have scored six goals in their World Cup careers. Many World Cup legends, including James Rodriguez in 2014, Harry Kane in 2018 and Hristo Stoichkov in 1994 scored all six of their career goals in one tournament.
Rather, the World Cup top scorers are not necessarily the first people to come to mind, with Pelé being the most famous name. Even then, he only ranks fifth on the all time list.
Here are the top scorers all time at the World Cup, and how each man amassed those goals in various tournaments.
World Cup top scorers
1. Miroslav Klose (GER), 16 goals
Capping off his World Cup career by lifting the 2014 World Cup, Miroslav Klose played in, and scored in, four different World Cups. He earned the Golden Show award in 2006 with five goals in his home country. Four years prior, he scored the second-most goals in South Korea and Japan, again with five.
Klose is the benefactor of knowledge of when and where to be on the field. Starting out for Germany by making substitute appearances, he scored all five of his goals at the 2002 World Cup with his head. His poacher mentality assisted Germany in the knockout stages of the 2006 World Cup, scoring the equalizer in the 80th minute against Argentina in the quarterfinals.
The German, who did not overly impress at club level, scored his record 16th goal at the World Cup in the famous, or infamous, destruction of Brazil in Belo Horizonte, 7-1. His signature flipping celebration became a mainstay over his 12-year tenure of World Cups.
2. Ronaldo (BRA), 15
The Brazilian Ronaldo is one of the most influential scorers of all time. In his time with Brazil, he won two World Cups and finished runner-up in a third in 1998. Albeit, he did not make any appearances as part of the 1994 World Cup winning side.
Regardless, the striker, who played for Real Madrid, Barcelona, Inter Milan and Milan in his career, was Brazil’s most important player in 1998 and 2002. He won the award for best player in the tournament, scoring four times. His health problems and performance in the final remain a mystery, as France defeated Brazil, 3-0.
Ronaldo’s eight goals in the 2002 World Cup allowed him to achieve the most goals at the competition. In fact, he cleared those in second, including Miroslav Klose, by three goals. He was a major factor in Brazil winning the competition, scoring both the goals in the final. Brazil won its fifth World Cup. Then, four years later, Ronaldo achieved the record for most goals in a career at the World Cup with three in Germany 2006. O Fenômeno is certainly one of the best players in the history of the sport.
3. Gerd Muller (GER), 14
In his debut World Cup in 1970, Gerd Muller scored an astounding 10 goals. He scored seven in three group stage games. This includes a pair of hat tricks against Bulgaria and Peru. In the knockout stage, his remaining three goals carried immeasurable importance. In West Germany’s quarterfinal fixture with England, Muller scored the game-winning goal in extra time to unseat the holders. Three days later, in the ‘Game of the Century’, Muller’s two extra time goals were not enough to defeat Italy.
Despite the devastating defeat, West Germany held some solace in a third-place finish. Muller’s tally in 1970 is the last time a player reached double-figures in goals at one tournament, despite the number of teams and games increasing.
Four years later, Muller and West Germany bounced back from third place. In the second phase of the competition, Muller scored the game-winner in the final game against Poland to send West Germany to the World Cup Final in Munich. Muller then scored the winner in the World Cup Final, his fourth goal at the 1974 World Cup and 14th overall, allowing West Germany to lift its second World Cup.
Muller led the World Cup top scorers of all time until 2006, when Ronaldo topped him.
4. Just Fontaine (FRA), 13
It is one thing to score 14, 15 or even 16 goals over a span of World Cups. It is a totally different achievement to score 13 goals at one World Cup. Just Fontaine scored 13 times in his only World Cup appearance at Sweden 1958. After six goals in the group stage, it already shaped up for a strong competition.
Fontaine scored twice in a quarterfinal victory over Nothern Ireland. Then, his ninth-minute equalizer was not enough to get past Brazil, who had a young phenom score a hat trick to send Brazil to the Final. In the third-place playoff, Just Fontaine exploded for four goals against West Germany, clinching France’s best finish in a World Cup at the time.
Fontaine’s 13 goals held two records at the time. On one hand, it remains the most goals scored by one player at one World Cup. Interestingly, Fontaine actually took the title from Hungarian Sándor Kocsis. Kocsis scored 11 times at the 1954 World Cup in Switzerland. Fontaine also achieved the rank of World Cup leading scorer of all time, a title he held until 1974. Despite scoring 13 times, Fontaine was actually not the headline maker at the 1958 World Cup.
5. Pele (BRA), 12
Pele burst onto the scene at the 1958 World Cup as a 17-year-old. The game-winner in the quarterfinal against Wales preceded a hat trick against Just Fontaine’s France to send Brazil to the final. There, Pele scored another two goals, helping Brazil to win its first World Cup trophy.
Pele’s career is one that children dream about. He scored the most goals at the club level. Also, he won three World Cups with Brazil, playing a major role in each one. Finally, he contributed to Brazil emerging as the dominant force in international soccer changing the way the world thinks about Brazilians in the sport.
Looking away from Brazil’s shock performance in the 1966 World Cup, where Pele scored just once and Brazil exited after three group stage games, Pele’s reputation speaks for itself. He scored in the 1970 World Cup Final, but could have added more. His injury in Brazil’s second game of the 1962 World forced him out of the competition. At the time, most considered him the best player in the world. Still, he remains one of the World Cup top scorers of all time.
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