The FIFA World Cup is the most prestigious football tournament. Every four years, the world’s greatest players compete for honors in their country colors.
The World Cup has grown to become a global festival since its inception in 1930, and winning it is high on the bucket list of world-class players.
Not everyone, however, has been able to step up to the biggest platform. Often, a historic performance in the World Cup might mean the difference between enjoying a legendary ranking after retirement or not.
The FIFA World Cup is the most prestigious football competition in the world. Every four years, the world’s best players fight for accolades in their respective national colors.
Since its debut in 1930, the World Cup has evolved to become a global spectacle, and winning it is high on the bucket list of world-class players.
Not everyone, however, has been able to rise to the highest level. Often, a memorable performance in the World Cup might spell the difference between retiring with a legendary ranking or not.
In 1982, the award was formally presented for the first time. Since then, the honor has been earned by some of the game’s most legendary forwards.
Notable Golden Boot winners such as Ronaldo Nazario, Harry Kane, and Miroslav Klose are regarded as some of the best strikers of their generation. As a result, their top-scorer awards were not altogether unexpected.
However, because to their low profile or playing in a deeper position, various other players unexpectedly finished as the highest scorers at the FIFA World Cup.
The five most unexpected Golden Boot winners at the FIFA World Cup are listed below.
#5 Davor Suker (Croatia) – 1998
Davor Suker established himself in La Liga at a young age with Sevilla and Real Madrid, and he had a strong profile heading into the 1998 World Cup.
Few, though, would have predicted that the then-30-year-old would build a name for himself in France. For openers, he was the talisman of a Croatian team making their first World Cup appearance since obtaining independence.
Despite having some quality players, they were not expected to have a significant influence at the World Cup. Croatia, on the other hand, tore the pre-tournament odds to shreds with a third-place finish.
Suker was the show’s star. He scored six goals in seven games, finding the back of the net in every game Croatia played.
With their underdog narrative in France ’98, they won the hearts of fans all around the world.
Davor Suker was the unexpected Golden Boot winner at the 1998 World Cup, as well as the Silver Ball for being the tournament’s second best player behind Ronaldo Nazario.
#4 Hristo Stoichkov (Bulgaria) – 1994
Including Hristo Stoichkov’s name as a surprise winner of the World Cup Golden Boot, like Davor Suker, is not necessarily an indictment of his talent, but rather a function of the team he represented.
Stoichkov was a standout at the 1994 World Cup, as he led an underdog Bulgaria to a surprise semifinal appearance.
He was awarded the Bronze Ball for his performances and was also the joint best goalscorer with Oleg Salenko (more on him later) with six goals from seven games.
Hristo Stoichkov with his Ballon d'Or in 1994. pic.twitter.com/DmqixzkOs9— 90s Football (@90sfootball) January 17, 2021
He outscored some of the tournament’s best strikers, including Gabriel Batistuta, Romario, Roberto Baggio, and Bebeto. As a result, he was awarded the Ballon d’Or in 1994.
Stoichkov, a volatile player, is recognized as one of Barcelona’s greatest players. He was a major member of Johan Cruyff’s fabled ‘dream team.’
He was a skilled set-piece taker who was also very technical, yet his frequent disciplinary difficulties took some of the luster off his ability on the field.
#3 Salvatore Schillaci (Italy) – 1990
Salvatore Schillaci was the surprise star of Italy’s World Cup victory in 1990. Thus only made his international debut a few months before the tournament began, and he was a late addition to the squad.
Schillaci sat out Italy’s first game of the tournament. He came in in place of Andrea Carnevale and scored the game-winning goal in a 1-0 victory over Austria.
Schillaci was a sure starter for his country after the third match, and his offensive partnership with Roberto Baggio proved efficient.
The then-Juventus star won the Golden Boot after scoring six goals in seven matches. He was also selected Player of the Tournament, beating out established players such as Lothar Matthäus and Diego Maradona.
He also came in second in the Ballon d’Or voting, trailing only the German star. However, the 1990 World Cup proved to be the pinnacle of Salvatore Schillaci’s career, and he was unable to replicate his success.
In 16 matches for Italy, he scored seven goals, six of them came in that historic tournament on home soil.
#2 James Rodriguez (Colombia) – 2014
Unlike the other players on this list, James Rodriguez is not a classic forward, preferring to create goals from his offensive midfield position.
The Colombian international has a low profile heading into the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil. He was only 22 years old and had recently completed his first season with Monaco after four years with Porto.
The loss of Radamel Falcao due to injury put additional strain on James Rodriguez’s youthful shoulders, yet he performed admirably enough to leave his mark on the tournament.
Despite his undeniable talent, it would have taken a daring gambler to back Rodriguez to finish as the 2014 FIFA World Cup’s top goalscorer.
For openers, the competition included world-class strikers such as Lionel Messi, Neymar, Wayne Rooney, and Cristiano Ronaldo. Furthermore, Rodriguez’s position as a midfielder was a detriment, and Colombia’s low background worked against him.
However, the Cucuta native defied all expectations by delivering one of the all-time great individual performances to lead his country to the quarterfinals for the first time in its history.
He made a strong start to the competition, scoring three goals and giving five assists to help his country finish first in their group. He maintained his excellent form by scoring both goals in Uruguay’s round-of-16 triumph.
The first goal was an excellent volley that was named the tournament goal and also earned the 2014 Puskas trophy.
James Rodriguez’s tournament came to an end in the quarterfinals as he was defeated 2-1 by Brazil. He, on the other hand, signed out with a goal in the loss, increasing his tally to six goals in only five games, scoring in all five.
Rodriguez secured a mega-move to Real Madrid that summer as a result of his efforts, yet his career has not taken the trajectory that many hoped.
#1 Oleg Salenko (Russia) – 1994
Oleg Salenko was a co-winner of the 1994 FIFA World Cup Golden Boot, and chances are the majority of those reading this have never heard of him.
Salenko’s career saw him represent three different countries. He began his career with the USSR Under-20 team (finishing as the top scorer at the 1989 World Youth Championship). Ukraine also won a cap in the country’s first international match since the dissolution of the old Soviet Republic.
He played for Russia in the 1994 World Cup, finishing as the tournament’s joint-top scorer with Hristo Stoichkov. His record was greatly increased when he became the first man in World Cup history to score five goals in a single game.
Russia trounced Cameroon 6-1 in a dead rubber group stage encounter, with Salenko scoring five goals.
This was Salenko’s final game on the international stage, and it lifted his World Cup total to six goals.
He created history by becoming the first player to win the FIFA World Cup Golden Boot while playing for a team that was eliminated in the group stage, and he is the first player to win the Golden Boot at both the Under-20 World Cup and the FIFA World Cup.