The first ever World Cup took place in Uruguay, and the host country won it all, but it was the backup striker for hated neighbors Argentina who stole the show. Stabile hadn’t yet made his debut when he was thrown on for the second game of the tournament after Roberto Cherro suffered an anxiety attack. He’d score eight times in four games in Argentina’s run to the final, including two in the semifinal against the United States. And then he’d never play for his country again.
1934: Oldrich Nejedly, Czechoslovakia, 5 goals
Until 2006, Nejedly actually shared the top scorer’s title with Germany’s Edmund Conen and Italy’s Angelo Schiavio, until he was retroactively awarded a fifth goal. Three of them came in Czechoslovakia’s 3-1 semifinals win over Germany, before they lost the final. Nejedly would break his leg at the next World Cup and never play again.
1938: Leonidas, Brazil, 7 goals
Leonidas already had five goals when manager Adhemar Pimenta decided to rest him for the semifinals – he had played 120 minutes in each of the first two games and 90 minutes in the quarterfinals replay. Pimenta would come to regret it, as Brazil lost to Italy 2-1. In the third-place game, Leonidas would score two more and lead Brazil to a 4-2 win over Sweden.
1950: Ademir, Brazil, 8 goals
Ademir had scored in four of Brazil’s five games when it reached the last game with Uruguay, which would decide the World Cup in the weird round-robin construct used that year. Brazil needed only a draw. And Ademir, who had scored four times in a 7-1 win over Sweden, did not manage to get on the scoreboard. The Brazilians lost to Uruguay 2-1 in a game of lasting national trauma. There is some debate over whether Ademir actually scored seven, eight or nine goals that tournament. Either way, nobody else got more than five.
1954: Sandor Kocsis, Hungary, 11 goals
The Mighty Magyars were supposed to win this World Cup but ended up dropping the final to West Germany 3-2. It was hardly Kocsis’s fault. He scored seven times in just two group games, twice in the quarterfinals and twice in the semifinals. He did not score in the final though.
1958: Just Fontaine, France, 13 goals
Fontaine set the record for goals scored in a World Cup when he bagged 13 in just six games for France as it claimed third place in Sweden. He scored in every single game the French played, including a four-goal game, a three-goal game and two two-goal games.
1962: Six players, five countries, 4 goals
As Brazil claimed its second consecutive World Cup title – of five overall – two of its players were among the six men to score four goals in that tournament. That would be Garrincha and Vava. Leonel Sanchez of Chile, Florian Albert of Hungary, Valentin Ivanov of the Soviet Union and Drazan Jerkovic of Yugoslavia each also got four.
1966: Eusebio, Portugal, 9 goals
There has perhaps never been so dominant a scoring spell as the one Eusebio put on in the quarterfinals against North Korea. With his side down by three goals just 25 minutes in, he set about scoring four unanswered goals over the next 40 minutes. Portugal would up winning 5-3 and moved on to the semifinals against eventual champions England. It’s worth noting that four of Eusebio’s nine goals in the tournament came from penalties.
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1970: Gerd Muller, Germany, 10 goals
Der Bomber didn’t seem to have a whole lot going for him. He was, as his first coach at Bayern Munich pointed out, “short and fat.” He was a tad awkward too, but he had an innate, almost preternatural, nose for the goal, always finding himself in the right spot to score. He would, for 32 years, hold the record for most World Cup goals with 14.
1974: Grzegorz Lato, Poland, 7 goals
The right winger scored twice in Poland’s upset of Argentina, once in Poland’s upset of Sweden, once in Poland’s upset of Yugoslavia and once in Poland’s upset of Brazil in the third-place game. He would go on to be a Polish senator and is now the head of its soccer federation.
1978: Mario Kempes, Argentina, 6 goals
Kempes didn’t just score six goals in Argentina’s first World Cup victory in its own country – helped a tad by the Videla regime. He also prevented one in a second-round game with Poland blatantly using his hand. They incurred a penalty but it was saved. In the final, against the Netherlands, Kempes scored both the go-ahead goal and the extra-time winner.
Getty ImagesSteve Powell
1982: Paolo Rossi, Italy, 6 goals
Rossi didn’t score at all in the first group stage as Italy scraped through with three draws out of three games. But then he scored all three in the 3-2 second group stage win over Brazil that put them into the semifinals. He got two more in the 2-0 win over Poland in the semis. And he scored the opening goal in the 3-1 win over West Germany in the final.
Getty ImagesChris Smith
1986: Gary Lineker, England, 6 goals
Baby Face Gary’s accomplishments in this tournament were notable for several reasons. For one, England wasn’t particularly good that year. Secondly, he wore a cast on his forearm for most of the tournament. But his hat-trick against Poland dragged England into the knockout phase and his brace against Paraguay put them into the quarterfinals. He scored against Argentina, but Diego Maradona’s “Hand of God” goal and godly second goal had already put the game out of reach.
1990: Toto Schillaci, Italy, 6 goals
At the World Cup in his home country, 26-year-old Schillaci was only in his second year on the national team. He came off the bench early on but started scoring as Italy made its run to third place. It would prove the halcyon of his international career. He would score just one other goal for Italy and quit the national team the next year.
1994: Hristo Stoichkov, Bulgaria; and Oleg Salenko, Russia, 6 goals each
Salenko pulled a neat trick that was never matched by scoring five goals in a single game, a 6-1 win over Cameroon. Since he’d also scored in a 3-1 loss to Sweden, he would share the tournament lead with six goals even though Russia didn’t make it into the knockout rounds – nobody else ever did that either. He had never scored for Russia before the tournament and never would again – his international career petering out after just eight caps for Russia, and one for Ukraine. For Barcelona star Stoichkov this was just one highlight of a much-laurelled career as he led Bulgaria to the semifinals.
PATRICK HERTZOG(AFP)-Ben Radford(ALLSPORT)/Getty Images
1998: Davor Suker, Croatia, 6 goals
As the focal point of the tournament’s Cinderella team, Suker not only managed to lead his fellow Croatians to third place, but he even out-scored Gabriel Batistuta, Ronaldo and Christian Vieri, the striking luminaries of their day. Neither he nor Croatia would ever scale such heights again.
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2002: Ronaldo, Brazil, 8 goals
The pressure on Ronaldo had been immense in 1998, leading to a collapse right before the final. He had been expected to break Fontaine’s single-World Cup scoring record of 13 but got just four goals. In 2002, he came good, scoring eight, including the winners in both the 1-0 semifinal win over Turkey and the 2-0 defeat of Germany in the final. He would collect a world-record 15 World Cup goals in all.
Bongarts/Getty ImagesGunnar Berning
2006: Miroslav Klose, Germany, 5 goals
Little was expected of Germany in their home country, but Klose, the wily target man, bagged two game-winners in the group stage. And he scored a late equalizer in the quarterfinals against Argentina, sending the game to penalties, which the Germans would win. Today, Klose has 14 World Cup goals and will take a shot at Ronaldo’s record in Brazil.
Getty ImagesShaun Botterill
2010: Four players, four countries, 5 goals
In South Africa, all four semifinalists would produce a player to score five goals. Eventual champions Spain had David Villa. Surprise runners-up the Netherlands had Wesley Sneijder. Third-placed Germany had Thomas Muller. And fourth-place finishers Uruguay had Diego Forlan.