The Top Goalscorers in World Cup History - Ranked

Declan Houten
Nov 9, 2020, 9:58 PM GMT
Miroslav Klose is the top scorer in the history of the World Cup
Miroslav Klose is the top scorer in the history of the World Cup | Ian MacNicol/Getty Images
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It might feel a long way away when the skies are gloomy and the nights are drawing in, but as anyone lucky enough to finish their school exams during one can attest to, there's absolutely no feeling quite like a World Cup summer.

You get home, England are about to play out a breathtakingly dull 0-0 draw against Peru, and there's the prospect of Iran versus Sweden on the TV after dinner. Even better, you get to watch some of the best players in the world, some of whom you barely even knew about, face up against one another every single day.

Indeed, the World Cup has always been the arena in which legacies of great goalscorers are made and tested, where Lionel Messi has no control whatsoever over his teammates and where one off-day can see your stock plummet forever.

So without further ado, let's have a closer look at some of the stars who dominated tournaments with their goalscoring feats, from the very earliest days of the World Cup to the present era. Here are the top goalscorers in the history of the World Cup...

30. Oldřich Nejedlý (Czechoslovakia, seven goals)

There are actually no fewer than eight players sitting on seven World Cup goals, so some sort of method had to be found to narrow them down. We went for goal-to-game ratio, so sorry Cristiano Ronaldo and Luis Suarez, Czechoslovakian forward Nejedlý, one of the few men to score a hat-trick in a World Cup semi-final, beats you to 30th spot with an impressive seven goals in six games.

You can actually read about him here.

29. Diego Maradona (Argentina, eight goals)

Shilton should be getting to this one imo
Shilton should be getting to this one imo | Getty Images/Getty Images

Look away now, Peter Shilton!

A man who needs no introduction, Maradona carried his country to the 1986 World Cup, and was prevented from going back-to-back only after an agonising penalty shootout loss in his home ground at Naples in 1990.

28. Rudi Voller (Germany, eight goals)

Voller scoring in the 1986 World Cup final
Voller scoring in the 1986 World Cup final | STAFF/Getty Images

Voller was on fire in the 1986 World Cup, scoring in both the semi-final and the final, which Germany eventually lost. However he is as much remembered for his goalscoring as his fiery duel with Frank Rijkaard in 1990. While Rijkaard is full of regret for his part in the bout, he consoles himself with the fact that he and Voller 'posed for a very funny advert together, years after'.

27. Rivaldo (Brazil, eight goals)

A bit of gamesmanship went a long way for Rivaldo in 2002
A bit of gamesmanship went a long way for Rivaldo in 2002 | CHRISTOPHE SIMON/Getty Images

Part of a fearsome strike force alongside Ronaldo Nazario and Ronaldinho which was instrumental in winning the 2002 World Cup, but was lucky not to be seriously injured after Hakan Unsal was sent off for brutally kicking a ball at him in the semi-final (for the young 'uns, Rivaldo was hit in the thigh and went down holding his face!)

26. Óscar Míguez (Uruguay, eight goals)

One of the heroes of the Maracanazo that was so disastrous for Brazilian sporting prestige, Miguez made sure that Uruguay were able to face Brazil in the 1950 World Cup final in the first place through a late, late brace against Sweden.

25. Ademir (Brazil, eight goals)

The first ever goalscorer at the Maracana, the top scorer at the 1950 World Cup, and rated as perhaps the second best Brazilian ever (behind Pele), Ademir was one of several players unlucky enough to have their reputation tainted by the aforementioned Maracanazo, where Uruguay shocked Brazil in front of a home crowd.

24. Leonidas (Brazil, eight goals)

There are about ten different people who claim to have invented the bicycle kick (including former Aston Villa chairman Sir Doug Ellis), but the man called 'The Black Diamond' may have the most credible claim, voted the best player of the 1938 World Cup after top scoring.

23. Guillermo Stabile (Argentina, eight goals)

Four caps, eight goals, Golden Boot winner at the first ever World Cup. You can't argue with those returns from the man who was nicknamed 'The Infiltrator'.

22. Uwe Seeler (West Germany, nine goals)

No hard feelings from Seeler after the 1966 final
No hard feelings from Seeler after the 1966 final | George Stroud/Getty Images

How unlucky do you have to be to play for West Germany in two World Cups and not pick up a winners' medal? One of the great goalscorers in his day, Seeler made history by scoring in four different World Cups, but was on the losing side in the final against England in 1966.

21. Karl-Heinze Rummenigge (West Germany, nine goals)

Mr Consistent for Germany receives a runners-up medal
Mr Consistent for Germany receives a runners-up medal | Getty Images/Getty Images

Before he was helping Bayern nick all their rivals' best players in his capacity as club chairman, Rummenigge was one of the best players in his country's history. While he won the Euros in 1980, alongside Voller he was a goalscorer on the losing side against Argentina in 1986.

20. Roberto Baggio (Italy, nine goals)

One of the few times his nerve failed from the spot
One of the few times his nerve failed from the spot | CHRIS WILKINS/Getty Images

Baggio lit up the stultifying 1994 World Cup, scoring the winner for Italy in every single one of their knockout matches - except the final, where 'The Divine Ponytail' missed perhaps the most famous penalty in the history of football.

19. Jairzinho (Brazil, nine goals)

Jairzinho after Brazil thumped Italy in the 1970 World Cup final
Jairzinho after Brazil thumped Italy in the 1970 World Cup final | STAFF/Getty Images

One of the best players in what is commonly agreed to be the best international team of all time. Both scored in every single game in the 1970 World Cup, and also didn't win the Golden Boot, which in itself is impressive.

18. Paolo Rossi (Italy, nine goals)

Injuries and his role in a betting scandal hampered Rossi's career
Injuries and his role in a betting scandal hampered Rossi's career | Alessandro Sabattini/Getty Images

Given the scale of his achievements, it's slightly surprising that you don't hear Rossi's name mentioned more often. Italy's all-time top scorer, Golden Boot and World Cup winner in 1982, and the man who scored a hat-trick in the so-called 'Greatest Match of All Time' between Italy and Brazil in the same year.

17. David Villa (Spain, nine goals)

Perhaps Spain's most legendary goalscorer
Perhaps Spain's most legendary goalscorer | Cameron Spencer/Getty Images

Villa was one of a select few lucky enough to be involved with both of the most-heralded sides of the current century in Pep Guardiola's Barcelona and the Spain international team that won back-to-back-to-back international trophies. Pretty good at finishing off those gazillion-pass moves that La Furia Roja were so fond off.

16. Vava (Brazil, nine goals)

Vava won back-to-back World Cups with Brazil
Vava won back-to-back World Cups with Brazil | STAFF/Getty Images

Like Stabile, the man called the 'Steel Chest' has another belting nickname, and the medals collection to match it, having scored in the final of both the 1958 and 1962 World Cups.

15. Christian Vieri (Italy, nine goals)

Vieri retired the year before Italy won the 2006 World Cup
Vieri retired the year before Italy won the 2006 World Cup | -/Getty Images

While Vieri's goal tally at World Cups is only matched by Rossi and Baggio in his country, it's always good to remember that there's a very strange alternate reality where he's a professional cricketer, a sport which obsessed him as a child growing up in Australia.

14. Eusebio (Portugal, nine goals)

Eusebio was only stopped by a man-marking job from Nobby Stiles
Eusebio was only stopped by a man-marking job from Nobby Stiles | Central Press/Getty Images

He tends to be the fifth name you hear mentioned in the GOAT conversation, but Messi, Ronaldo and Maradona are all playing second fiddle to this man when it comes to World Cup goals. Ran riot in the 1966 World Cup to such an extent that England (allegedly) changed the venue of their semi-final clash with Portugal to Wembley for a better chance of stopping him (he still scored).

13. Grzegorz Lato (Poland, ten goals)

Lato during a World Cup game against Haiti
Lato during a World Cup game against Haiti | STAFF/Getty Images

Possibly one of the few World Cup Golden Boot winners to also be elected senator in their native country, Lato's seven goals came close to taking Poland to an unlikely appearance in the 1974 World Cup final.

12. Thomas Muller (Germany, ten goals)

Still one of the best in the world to this very day
Still one of the best in the world to this very day | PATRIK STOLLARZ/Getty Images

Was unstoppable (unless you were Spain) as part of a young Germany side in the 2010 World Cup, where he won the Golden Boot despite his third ever cap coming in Germany's first group game.

If you're under the impression that he will be the sole Muller to appear on this list, you are sorely mistaken.

11. Teófilo Cubillas (Peru, ten goals)

Cubillas is the most prolific goalscorer in Peru's history
Cubillas is the most prolific goalscorer in Peru's history | STAFF/Getty Images

Easily the most left-field name on this list, the man whose highest honour at club level was a solitary Portuguese cup with Porto exploded into life at the 1970 World Cup where he scored in all of Peru's matches, before showing that it was no fluke eight years later in Argentina (although questions remain about his country's suspicious 6-0 exit to the hosts in the very same tournament).

10. Gabriel Batistuta (Argentina, ten goals)

Batistuta played for Argentina under current Leeds boss Marcelo Bielsa
Batistuta played for Argentina under current Leeds boss Marcelo Bielsa | MIGUEL MENDEZ/Getty Images

This guy loved nothing more than to hit a football extremely hard.

The only player in football's entire history to bag a hat-trick at separate World Cups.

9. Gary Lineker (England, ten goals)

Still the top-scoring Englishman at World Cups
Still the top-scoring Englishman at World Cups | STAFF/Getty Images

That attempted Panenka against Brazil, that on-pitch loo break at Italia 90, that telling glance at Bobby Robson - the good-natured Match of the Day host has so many amusing anecdotes from his time as an England international you forget that he was actually pretty decent.

His nerve from the spot saved England's bacon against Cameroon, and he was amongst the goals again against Germany in the semi, to say nothing of his Golden Boot in Mexico '86.

8. Helmut Rahn (West Germany, 10 goals)

Rahn has an eternal place in German football history
Rahn has an eternal place in German football history | STAFF/Getty Images

Rahn's left foot is responsible for what has been immortalized as 'The Miracle of Bern' in German footballing folklore, where West Germany came back from a two-goal deficit against a formidable Hungary side in the 1954 World Cup final, ending their five-year unbeaten run.

7. Jurgen Klinsmann (West Germany and Germany, eleven goals)

He almost won a World Cup as manager, too!
He almost won a World Cup as manager, too! | OLIVER LANG/Getty Images

Considering how awful Spurs were in the 90s, it's nothing short of baffling to see two of their ex-players from that period in the top ten of this list.

He picked up his reputation as a diver in the 1990 World Cup final, but given that his antics got Pedro Monzon a red card and a win for his country, it's hard to imagine him being that bothered.

6. Sándor Kocsis (Hungary, eleven goals)

One man who would've been particularly put out by Rahn's antics in 1954 would've been Kocsis, who scored 11 goals (including two hat-tricks) in the space of a single tournament.

The one time he didn't score (the final) was probably somewhat crucial, that being said.

5. Pele (Brazil, twelve goals)

Could Mbappe go past him one day?
Could Mbappe go past him one day? | Marc Piasecki/Getty Images

Don't worry, we were always going to get to him eventually.

Basically the man that the World Cup is most synonymous with, and the man with three such trophies to his name. Might it have been four had he not taken such a kicking in 1966?

4. Just Fontaine (France, thirteen goals)

Fontaine's time at the top was short but sweet
Fontaine's time at the top was short but sweet | STAFF/Getty Images

A player who managed more goals in one World Cup than Pele managed across four, but hasn't really much of a reputation outside of being a cracking pub quiz answer.

Fontaine linked up sensationally with Raymond Kopa in 1958, despite not even having his own boots, and with Kocsis' record on the line scored four goals in his final game of the tournament.

Sadly, Fontaine was unlucky enough to break his leg twice, and thus understandably retired at the age of 28 having starred in just one World Cup.

3. Gerd Muller (West Germany, fourteen goals)

Muller won two different international tournaments for West Germany
Muller won two different international tournaments for West Germany | STAFF/Getty Images

Sorry Thomas, but you're not even the best Muller on this list.

The man forever nicknamed Der Bomber set just about every goalscoring record in the game (until this Portuguese guy and an Argentinian fella came along), and ended his international career on a perfect high after scoring the winner in the 1974 World Cup final.

2. Ronaldo (Brazil, fifteen goals)

The World Cup's greatest ever player?
The World Cup's greatest ever player? | Alessandro Sabattini/Getty Images

Quite possibly the most talented player ever to touch a football, he might have ended even further up on this list if he hadn't been, by his own admission, half-dead during the 1998 final.

You know you're good when your surgeon becomes a minor celebrity, and that's exactly what happened to Gerard Saillant in 2002, when Ronaldo bounced back from his injuries and a seizure in the previous tournament to lay waste to his surroundings, scoring a decisive brace in the final.

1. Miroslav Klose (Germany, sixteen goals)

Appropriately enough, Klose broke Ronaldo's record in the 7-1 demolition of Brazil
Appropriately enough, Klose broke Ronaldo's record in the 7-1 demolition of Brazil | PEDRO UGARTE/Getty Images

This is arguably one of the weirdest statistics in footballing history - you're going to tell me that a guy who hit over 20 league goals once in his entire career is the greatest goalscorer in the history of the most prestigious sporting competition in the world?

Klose is quite simply a testament to fitness, longevity and what having a bloody good leap can do for you, but it remains the truth that in all but two league seasons of his career he never equalled the sixteen goals he scored across four World Cups.

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