Strikers sharpen their sights

Before the idea of the sound bite ever gained currency, legendary 1954 FIFA World Cup™-winning Germany coach Sepp Herberger was a master of the terse but memorable quip. Although its origin is in fact a matter for debate, one such quote usually attributed to Herberger - Das Runde muss ins Eckige, “The round thing has to go in the rectangular thing” – concisely sums up the whole point of the game, taking your chances and scoring goals.
For this fundamental reason, the spotlight at the forthcoming 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa will inevitably fall on the strikers. But goalscoring is a mysterious craft. For every in-form hitman tucking away all his chances, no matter how improbable, there is a normally reliable goalscorer who cannot, for love nor money, find the net. That single, crucial difference is generally the decisive factor between defeat and victory.
Casting an eye over the attacking talent on display at the global showdown in Africa, it is immediately clear that fans can look forward to watching the crème de la crème in action. Intriguingly, a majority of the big-name nations boast not one but two world-class strikers this time round.
Liga stars set to tormentThe obvious starting point is reigning FIFA World Player of the Year Lionel Messi of Barcelona, winner of the Golden Shoe as Europe’s top scorer and partnered up front for Argentina by Spanish league rival Gonzalo Higuain of Real Madrid.
Messi’s predecessor as the world’s best player, Cristiano Ronaldo, plays alongside Higuain in Madrid and enjoyed a more than satisfactory first season with Los Blancos. In Portugal colours, Ronaldo lines up alongside former Manchester United team-mate Nani in a genuinely formidable attacking pairing.
Perennial FIFA World Cup favourites Brazil include four nominal strikers in Robinho, Nilmar, Grafite and Luis Fabiano, but with the goalscoring prowess of Kaka coming through from midfield, A Canarinho fans need hardly worry about where the goals could be coming from.
Holders Italy include in their ranks the man who finished top scorer in Serie A last term, Antonio di Natale. The 32-year-old will doubtless be consulting fellow strikers Vincenzo Iaquinta and Alberto Gilardino for advice, as the pair were part of the FIFA World Cup-winning squad four years ago.
The adidas Golden Shoe for the top scorer at the 2006 finals went to Miroslav Klose. He is again in the Germany squad, along with Lukas Podolski, named best young player at the same tournament. However, both struggled to recapture the form of 2006 in disappointing 2009/10 campaigns at club level.
The Germans have more reason than most to be wary of reigning European champions Spain, as La Roja marksmen Fernando Torres and David Villa were largely responsible for orchestrating the Germans’ downfall in the UEFA EURO 2008 final. The Iberians will again look to the deadly front two for inspiration and goals in South Africa.
Rivals carry hopes and dreamsIn the case of England, just one name stands head and shoulders above the rest, and the name is Wayne Rooney. In contrast to his Germany counterparts, the 24-year-old enjoyed an outstanding season for Manchester United and finished second top scorer in the Premier League on 26 goals.
He was bested by the slim margin of a single goal by Didier Drogba from champions Chelsea, although the Côte d’Ivoire superstar is on the doubtful list for the finals at present with an elbow injury. However, even without the 32-year-old, Les Eléphants boast plenty of firepower with the likes of Salomon Kalou and Kader Keita.
Turning to the other African hopefuls, Cameroon are led by Samuel Eto’o, a UEFA Champions League winner for the last two years with Barcelona and Inter Milan. Top-notch talent is to be found elsewhere too, with Nigerian duo Victor Obinna and Obafemi Martins and Ghana marksman Asamoah Gyan.
Elsewhere, Honduran striker Carlos Alberto Pavon goes into the tournament with the special distinction of being the leading goalscorer of them all, as he has a total of 56 international goals to his name.
Space prevents us expanding our list of first-class forwards at the forthcoming FIFA World Cup, although it would be an easy enough task, what with the presence of Arjen Robben (Netherlands), Franck Ribery (France), Harry Kewell (Australia) and Cuauhtemoc Blanco (Mexico), and many more besides.
It would be a major surprise if the next four weeks failed to produce goals galore. And the 2006 finals proved, if proof were needed, that a decent scoring record tends to lead to success. Hosts Germany scored 14 goals and claimed third place at the finals, while world champions Italy netted 12 times en route to their triumph. Runners-up France (nine goals) and fourth-placed Portugal (seven) also finished near the top of the scoring charts.
At South Africa 2010, just as so often before, the best form of defence could well be to attack.