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The top scorers in World Cup qualifying history - ranked

Daniel Feliciano
Apr 1, 2021, 10:49 AM GMT+1
World Cup qualifying has seen some of the best players go toe to toe
World Cup qualifying has seen some of the best players go toe to toe | JONATHAN NACKSTRAND/Getty Images

World Cup qualifying is the platform for the best players in the world to prove their worth and get their team into the biggest and most important football tournament there is.

With qualification for the 2022 World Cup set to take place, teams will be backing their best goalscorers to fire them to the tournament proper in Qatar. But who are the greatest goalscorers in World Cup qualifying history? 90min takes a look.

30. Samuel Eto'o - 17 goals

Samuel Eto'o
The former Lions captain leads the way in qualification goals for his country | Giuseppe Bellini/Getty Images

The former Barcelona and Inter forward is undoubtedly the best player to ever come out of Cameroon, and appeared in four different World Cups.

29. Ivan Zamorano - 17 goals

Ivan Zamorano
The legendary Chiliean scored goals wherever he played | Simon M Bruty/Getty Images

Zamorano is fondly remembered for wearing the number 1+8 shirt during his time at Inter, but he should probably be more remembered for his goalscoring exploits.

With his trademark barnet Zamorano scored 17 times in 24 qualifying games for Chile - exactly half of his international goals.

28. Robbie Keane - 17 goals

Robbie Keane of the Republic of Ireland celebrates
Robbie Keane is Ireland's all-time top scorer | Jamie McDonald/Getty Images

Has there ever been a more feared Irish striker than the great Robbie Keane?

Nope, definitely not.

The legendary striker scored 17 goals in 36 games for the Boys in Green during qualifying but made just four appearances in an actual tournament.

27. Dimitar Berbatov - 17 goals

Berbatov is arguably Bulgaria's best ever export | NIKOLAY DOYCHINOV/Getty Images

Best known for his elegant style of play while in the Premier League, Dimitar Berbatov's international career was also spectacular.

He is his nation's greatest ever goalscorer, scoring 17 times in 24 appearances in World Cup qualifying alone.

26. Edinson Cavani - 17 goals

Cavani loves a goal | DOUGLAS MAGNO/Getty Images

The Manchester United striker has scored goals everywhere he's been and that includes international level for Uruguay.

He's Uruguay's second highest goalscorer ever and second highest World Cup qualifying goalscorer too. Can you guess who's first? Answer later in this list...

25. Alex Frei - 17 goals

Swizterland's Alexander Frei celebrates
Alexander Frei always performed when it mattered for the Swiss | OLIVIER MORIN/Getty Images

Scoring 42 goals for Switzerland and appearing in two World Cups and two European Championships is pretty damn impressive.

The fact he's scored 17 goals in qualification is also pretty damn impressive.

24. Savo Milosevic - 17 goals

Savo Milosevic
Savo Milosevic always knew how to find the net | Phil Cole/Getty Images

The first man to hit 100 caps for Serbia (formerly Yugoslavia), Milosevic is one of the best players to ever represent his country. 17 goals scored in 26 qualifiers saw him make it to two World Cups, including as captain in 2006.

23. Hakan Sukur - 17 goals

Hakan Suker of Turkey
Hakan Sukur is Turkey's all-time top scorer | Mark Thompson/Getty Images

Sukur is the best Turkish goalscorer the world has ever seen, and he proved that while playing for his national team.

The former Galatasaray front man scored 51 times for his country, including 17 times in 31 appearances in World Cup qualifiers.

22. Didier Drogba - 18 goals

Didier Drogba
Didier Drogba is well known for his Chelsea days | Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

Best known for his days as Chelsea's main man, Drogba led the Ivory Coast golden generation which included the likes of Yaya and Kolo Toure too.

He bagged an impressive 18 times in 19 games for his country in African qualifying games to play in three World Cups, but he only scored once in the tournament proper.

21. Marcelo Salas - 18 goals

Marcelo Salas
Marcelo Salas was Zamorano's strike partner | Stu Forster/Getty Images

Remember Zamorano from earlier in the list? Well, say hello to his strike partner, Marcelo Salas.

Famed for his time at Lazio in Serie A, Salas scored 18 times in 32 qualifying games as part of his tally of 37 in 70 for his country - pitting him only behind Alexis Sanchez and Eduardo Vargas in the all-time chart.

20. Clint Dempsey - 18 goals

Clint Dempsey
The former Fulham man always did well for his country | Hunter Martin/Getty Images

While Landon Donovan is usually described as the USA's best ever player, there is a conversation to be had that includes Dempsey.

The ex-Fulham and Spurs forward notched up 18 goals in 43 qualifying games, then scored a famous goal as the States earned a draw with England in the 2010 World Cup tournament.

19. Jozy Altidore - 18 goals

Jozy Altidore
Jozy Altidore struggled in Europe but has been great for his national team | Jamie Squire/Getty Images

This may come as a shock considering Altidore's showings in Europe for Sunderland and Villarreal, but he's actually a pretty lethal goalscorer in his homeland.

He shines in the MLS and also at international level, sitting third in the all-time top scorers chart but top of his nation's qualifying goals charts with 18 goals to date.

18. Hernan Crespo - 19 goals

Hernan Crespo
Crespo was an underrated hitman throughout his career | Ben Radford/Getty Images

Crespo is arguably one of the most underrated strikers in his nation's history.

He did well at international level scoring 35 times, with 19 of those coming in 32 qualifying games.

17. Vaughan Coveny - 19 goals

Vaughan Coveny
Vaughan Coveny is the least known name on the list | Robert Cianflone/Getty Images

A 6ft 3 striker who spent his entire career in Oceania, he is the leading goalscorer for his nation.

He scored 19 of his 28 goals for New Zealand in just 20 World Cup qualifying games, although he never appeared in an actual World Cup tournament.

16. Pauleta - 19 goals

Portugal's greatest goalscorer before Cristiano Ronaldo | MIGUEL RIOPA/Getty Images

Before Cristiano Ronaldo existed, Pauleta was the man for Portugal.

Not only did he lead the way in the all-time scoring charts but he also scored 19 goals in World Cup qualifying for the Seleccao during his career.

15. Zlatan Ibrahimovic - 19 goals

Zlatan Ibrahimovic
Zlatan is back in the Sweden fold | Alex Livesey/Getty Images

The God, the lion, whatever he decides to call himself on the day, Zlatan Ibrahimovic is arguably the greatest Swede to ever play the game.

He recently returned to the international fold after a five-year absence and will look to add to his 19 goals in World Cup qualifying during this latest campaign.

14. Archie Thompson - 20 goals

World Cup Qualifier X
Another game, another goal | Darren England/Getty Images

Now, this entry is a little bit skewed because of one performance in particular.

Archie Thompson scored 20 goals in World Cup qualifying for Australia during his career and 13 of them came in one game, when the Aussies beat Samoa 31-0 back in 2002. He equalled a world record in that game and ended up scoring just nine more for his country throughout his career.

13. Stern John - 20 goals

Stern John
Former Birmingham striker Stern John was great for his national team | Ben Radford/Getty Images

Probably best remembered by fans for his time in England, Stern John is the top goalscorer in Trinidad and Tobago history.

20 of the 70 he scored came in World Cup qualifying, including 12 during the 2006 campaign alone.

12. Paulo Wanchope - 21 goals

Paulo Wanchope of Costa Rica
Paulo Wanchope is best known for his time at Man City | Gary M. Prior/Getty Images

Best known for his time at Manchester City, Paulo Wanchope is without a doubt the best Costa Rican footballer of all time.

He bagged 45 goals in 73 games for his country including 21 in World Cup qualifying, playing in two World Cups and scoring twice against Germany back in 2006.

11. Lionel Messi - 22 goals

Lionel Messi
The greatest player of all time | Alex Livesey/Getty Images

The third greatest player of all time, but that only gets him into the top ten on this list.

Messi has 22 World Cup qualifying goals to his name.

10. Jared Borgetti - 23 goals

Jared Borguetti
Borgetti got nearly a goal a game | Brian Bahr/Getty Images

Mexico have been blessed with some great goalscorers in their past and Jared Borgetti is one of them.

He scored 14 goals during qualification for the 2006 World Cup and hit 23 in total en route to appearing in the 2002 and 2006 competition with El Tri.

9. Tim Cahill - 24 goals

Tim Cahill
Cahill was a knockout throughout his career in front of goal | Michael Dodge/Getty Images

Remember that little Australian guy who used to pop up at Goodison Park with loads of goals? That was Tim Cahill, Australia's all-time top goalscorer.

He hit 24 of his 50 international goals in 36 qualifying games to get him in this list - the highest scoring midfielder in qualification history.

8. Carlos Pavon - 24 goals

Honduran Carlos Pavon celebrates after s
Nothing from Honduras has ever topped Carlos Pavon | ORLANDO SIERRA/Getty Images

Honduras aren't exactly known for their footballing talents on the world stage, and yet striker Carlos Pavon sits comfortably inside the top ten.

24 goals in 35 qualifiers helped Pavon to make it to just one World Cup in 2010, where he was unable to add to his record of 57 international goals.

7. Edin Dzeko - 24 goals

Dzeko is the greatest goalscorer in his nation's history | ISABELLA BONOTTO/Getty Images

Dzeko burst onto the scene in Europe with Wolfsburg and later enjoyed incredible spells at Roma and Man City, but he's been fantastic for his international side too.

The striker has scored a record 59 goals for his country with 24 goals coming in 31 qualifiers.

6. Robert Lewandowski - 24 goals

Poland's greatest export | AFP Contributor/Getty Images

Simply put, Lewandowski knows where the back of the net is.

The Pole has scored 24 goals in qualifying games, and scored 16 ahead of the 2018 World Cup alone - a record that is likely to stand for a while.

5. Luis Suarez - 25 goals

Luis Suarez
Suarez is one of the best strikers of his generation | Ryan Pierse/Getty Images

Remember those questions earlier about Cavani and Uruguay? Well, Luis Suarez is the answer.

The former Liverpool and Barcelona striker has scored goals consistently over the last decade and is the highest scoring Uruguayan in history, including his 25 goals in 51 qualifying games.

4. Andriy Shevchenko - 26 goals

Andriy Shevchenko
Shevchenko won the Ballon d'Or in 2004 | Martin Rose/Getty Images

Considering Ukraine are hardly footballing heavyweights, so it's a credit to them that they managed to produce one of the best strikers of his generation in Andriy Shevchenko.

The Milan legend scored 26 goals in 40 qualifiers during his career but only managed to play in one World Cup, scoring twice.

3. Kazuyoshi Miura - 27 goals

Kazuyoshi Miura
Kazuyoshi Miura is the highest scorer in Asian qualifiers history | Ben Radford/Getty Images

Miura only ever played in two qualification tournaments for the Blue Samurais, and yet managed to tot up the most goals in Asian qualifying history.

He scored 13 in 13 during the 1994 process as Japan failed to qualify, then scored 14 times during qualification for the 1998 tournament before controversially being left out of the squad. Shocking.

2. Cristiano Ronaldo - 30 goals

The greatest goalscorer in the history of the game isn't top of this list | PATRICIA DE MELO MOREIRA/Getty Images

There's a Portuguese guy you probably haven't heard much about in the last 20 years or so, but he scores quite a lot of goals.

CR7 has scored over 100 international goals for Portugal, including 30 in 38 qualifiers up to now - the most of any European ever. He will look to add to that tally during the current campaign.

1. Carlos Ruiz - 39 goals

The highest goalscorer in World Cup qualifiers history | JOHAN ORDONEZ/Getty Images

Guatemala have never qualified for the World Cup in their history, but they are the nation to have produced the greatest goalscorer in qualifying history in Carlos Ruiz.

"Pescado" scored 39 times in 47 qualifying appearances over five different campaigns to top this list and tops his countries all-time list too with 68 goals in 133 caps.