On July 13, 1930, France’s Lucien Laurent scored the first-ever World Cup goal to kickstart a 4-1 win over Mexico. Since that afternoon in Uruguay, a plethora of players, both well-known and not, have added their names to the list of World Cup scorers.
However, only a select number of players have been prolific enough to be counted among the greatest scorers in World Cup history. For some, it took multiple World Cups, while others needed just one appearance on football’s biggest stage to etch their name into the World Cup history books.
There’s a good chance that this list will need some amending after the 2010 World Cup, if Miroslav Klose can find the net even just once in South Africa. At this point, however, he finds himself just outside of the very top of the charts. Who does he have to pass to get to the top? Here’s our break down of the greatest goalscorers in World Cup history.
World Cup Goals: 15
At 17, Ronaldo was a part of Brazil’s 1994 World Cup-winning squad, but he would not make his World Cup debut until four years later.
By that time, he was firmly established as arguably the best striker in the world and showcased his skills in France, scoring four goals. He netted in a 3-0 win over Morocco in the group stage, grabbed a brace in a 4-1 win over Chile in the round of 16, and added his fourth against Holland in the semis, which Brazil won on penalties. Unfortunately, an ill Ronaldo and Brazil were held scoreless in their 3-0 defeat to the hosts.
Knee injuries kept Ronaldo off of the pitch for much of the next few seasons, but he more than put any doubts to rest at the 2002 World Cup, winning both the Golden Shoe and the Golden Ball. He scored in each of Brazil’s group stage matches (one vs. Turkey and China, two vs. Costa Rica), added his fifth in the round of 16 vs. Belgium, and put Brazil in the final by providing the only goal in the semis vs. Turkey. In the final against Germany, his goals in the 67th and 79th secured Brazil’s record fifth title, with the second goal equaling Pele’s mark of 12 World Cup goals.
The 2006 World Cup in Germany would be much less glorious, as Ronaldo was soundly criticized for his weight. But before Brazil’s disappointing quarterfinal defeat to France, he managed to make history. After being blanked vs. Croatia and Australia, he tied Gerd Muller’s record of 14 with a brace in a 4-1 win over Japan. Then in the round of 16 vs. Ghana, he put Brazil ahead – and himself in the record books – with his 5th minute strike in Brazil’s 3-0 win.
World Cup Goals: 14
Muller only took part in two World Cups, in 1970 and 1974, but given how prolific he was on both the club and international level, it’s no surprise that he racked up the total that he did.
Muller scored nine goals in six matches for West Germany during their 1970 World Cup qualifying campaign, and he would score 10 in six during the finals in Mexico. He scored the winner in their 2-1 win over Morocco to open group play, and then he spearheaded convincing wins over Bulgaria and Peru with successive hat tricks. In the quarters against England, Muller netted the winner in extra time in a 3-2 thriller. He followed that with two extra-time strikes in the semis against Italy, but Italy won 4-3 to relegate West Germany to the third-place match.
West Germany hosted the 1974 World Cup, and though he did not find the back of the net as often as he did in 1970, Muller very much had a starring role in the hosts’ triumph. Muller netted once in the first group stage, twice in the second group stage to help lead West Germany to the final. In the final against the Netherlands, he scored the winning goal – and his record-breaking 14th goal – in the 43rd minute in West Germany’s 2-1 win. That would be his last appearance for West Germany, and along with his then-record World Cup haul, Muller finished his international career with 68 goals in only 62 caps.
World Cup Goals: 14
Starting his World Cup career at the 2002 World Cup in Korea-Japan, he scored five headed goals for the German national team, finishing joint second highest goal scorer along with the Brazilian maestro Rivaldo. Miroslav Klose’s tally included a hat-trick in Germany 8-0 thumping of Saudi Arabia. He earned the nickname ‘Salto-Klose’ after her performed his trademark goal celebration, the front-flip, five times during the 2002 World Cup.
He made it to the 2006 World Cup squad for Germany as well. It was hosted by them, so no compromise on performance was tolerable. Doing just that, Klose scored two in the 4-2 win against Costa Rica in the opener. Their second game was against his country of birth, Poland. During the game he made a formidable strike partnership with another Pole playing for Germany, Lukas Podolski. They scored eight goals between them. Scoring another two against Ecuador, Klose had four goals in the group stages and his grand total now stood at nine goals.
Finally, scoring the fifth goals with his head after scoring his first five World Cup goals with his head in 2002. He now held the record of the only player to have scored five goals in two consecutive World Cups.
Come 2010 in South Africa, Klose scored against Australia in the opener before seeing his second yellow in the 36th minute. Germany went on to win the game 4-0. Then against England in the Round of 16, Klose scored to equal Pele for fourth on the all time list with 12 goals. In the quarterfinal against Argentina, Klose scored his 13th and 14th World Cup goal pulling him level with Gerd Muller’s all-time German World Cup goal scoring record.
He had two games to go in any case and it was thought that he will become the joint top World Cup goal scorer with Ronaldo at least but Germany failed to score against Spain in the semifinal. On top of that, Klose suffered a back injury which kept him out of the third place play-off game against Uruguay.
Nonetheless, Klose remains the joint top scorer for Germany with the legendary Gerd Muller.
World Cup Goals: 13
While the other players at the top of this list all had the chance to tally their totals in multiple World Cups, Fontaine’s accomplishment is all the more noteworthy because all 13 of his goals came in the 1958 World Cup. Fontaine, who helped lead Stade de Reims to two Ligue 1 titles and a European Cup final in 1960, retired before the age of 30 due to injury, but despite an abbreviated career and opportunities on the world stage, made the most of his chance to etch his name into World Cup lore.
Fontaine started with a bang, scoring a hat trick in a 7-3 win over Paraguay. In France’s next match, Fontaine scored the opener and a late equalizer, but Yugoslavia prevailed 3-2. He would, however, ensure France’s passage to the quarterfinals, scoring what proved to be the decisive goal in a 2-1 win over Scotland to close out group play.
In the quarterfinals against Northern Ireland, Fontaine netted a brace in the second half in a 4-0 win to take his total to eight. France’s World Cup title hopes were dashed in the semis with a 5-2 defeat to eventual champions Brazil, but Fontaine scored his ninth (in the ninth minute, at that).
He would save his best performance for last, completely dismantling West Germany in the third-place match. Fontaine had a hat trick inside 40 minutes, and he closed the scoring with a fourth goal in the 89th, putting the capper on a 6-3 rout.
For what it’s worth, second place on the scoring charts was an astounding seven behind. Pele and West Germany’s Helmut Rahn scored a total that would’ve at least tied for the top total in seven of the last eight World Cups, but even combined, still came up short of Fontaine‘s lucky 13.
World Cup Goals: 12
Pele made his World Cup debut at the tender age of 17, and what a debut it was. He set numerous records in the 1958 World Cup in Sweden, becoming the youngest player to play in the World Cup, the youngest player to play in a World Cup final, the youngest World Cup goalscorer, and the youngest player to score a hat trick in the World Cup.
Oh, and he scored six goals to help lead Brazil to its first World Cup title, and to boot, all six goals came in the knockout stages. A 66th minute strike defeated Wales in the quarterfinals, a second-half hat trick put France away in a 5-2 semifinal win, and in a 5-2 win over hosts Sweden in the final, he scored twice in the second half, with the first going down as one of the greatest goals in World Cup history.
Four years later in Chile, Pele scored in a 2-0 win over Mexico in the opener, but after injuring himself in the next match against Czechoslovakia, he missed out on the remainder of Brazil’s run to a World Cup repeat.
Injuries due to harsh treatment from opposition would limit him to just two group matches in the 1966 World Cup in England, and he would only score one goal (in a 2-0 win over Bulgaria) as Brazil were eliminated in the first round.
Pele would put that behind him four years later in Mexico, scoring four goals to lead Brazil to a third title in four World Cups. He scored the go-ahead goal in a 4-1 win over Czechoslovakia in Brazil’s group opener, and he did the double in a 3-2 win over Romania to confirm Brazil’s place atop their group. He went without scoring in the quarterfinals and semifinals against Peru and Uruguay, but in the final against Italy, he opened the scoring in the 18th minute, setting Brazil on its way to a 4-1 win.
World Cup Goals: 11
Klinsmann made his World Cup debut in Italy in 1990, helping West Germany win a third title. He scored in the first two group matches, as West Germany routed Yugoslavia and the United Arab Emirates, and he added a third in a 2-1 win over the Netherlands in the round of 16. He wouldn’t score in West Germany’s final three matches, but that mattered little, as he’d get to celebrate a world title after a 1-0 win over Argentina in the final.
The 1990 World Cup would be the pinnacle of Klinsmann’s team successes, but he’d go on to have a starring role in 1994 and 1998. In 1994, Klinsmann scored five goals to help Germany reach the quarterfinals in the U.S. He scored four times in the group stage, finding the back of the net in all three group games, and he added his fifth in a 3-2 win over Belgium in the round of 16. His haul would put him second behind joint-top scorers Hristo Stoichkov (Bulgaria) and Oleg Salenko (Russia).
Klinsmann would become the first player to score at least three goals in three different World Cups by scoring three times in the 1998 World Cup in France. He scored in group stage wins over the United States and Iran, and in the round of 16 against Mexico, he scored his final World Cup goal to level the tie in a 2-1 Germany comeback win.
World Cup Goals: 11
Along with another legend in Ferenc Puskas, Kocsis was one of the pillars of Hungary‘s great attacking teams in the late 1940s and early 1950s. As impressive as Muller’s scoring exploits were, he was outdone by Kocsis, who scored an astounding 75 goals in only 68 international appearances.
Like Fontaine, all of Kocsis’ World Cup goals would come in one tournament, as he spearheaded Hungary’s run to the 1954 World Cup final in Switzerland with a Golden Shoe-winning 11 goals. He opened his World Cup account with a hat trick in a 9-0 win over South Korea, and he followed that with four in an 8-3 win over West Germany.
Kocsis wouldn’t slow down in the knockout stages, netting a brace in a 4-2 win over Brazil in the quarterfinals, and he scored twice in extra time to deliver a 4-2 win over Uruguay in the semifinals. However, the World Cup would end in disappointment for both Kocsis and Hungary, who would go down as one of the best sides to fall short of World Cup glory. West Germany would fully avenge that previous mauling, holding Kocsis scoreless and overcoming an early 2-0 deficit to score a 3-2 win.
Sadly, the Hungarian Revolution interrupted what could have been for Hungary, but though Kocsis played his last international in 1956, he went on to have a successful club career in Spain with Barcelona, before retiring in 1965.
T7. Gabriel Batistuta (Argentina): 10
Batistuta scored four goals in the 1994 World Cup, five in the 1998 World Cup, and one in the 2002 World Cup.
T7. Teofilo Cubillas (Peru): 10
Cubillas scored five goals in the 1970 World Cup, and eight years later, he repeated the feat in the 1978 World Cup.
T7. Miroslav Klose (Germany): 10
Klose found the back of the net five times in the 2002 World Cup, and he followed that with five more in the 2006 World Cup. Barring injury, he’ll have the opportunity to add to that total in South Africa.
T7. Grzegorz Lato (Poland): 10
Lato won the Golden Shoe at the 1974 World Cup with seven goals, helping Poland finish third. He scored twice in the 1978 World Cup in Argentina, and he added another goal in another third-place showing by Poland in the 1982 World Cup.
T7. Gary Lineker (England): 10
Lineker is the only Englishman to date to win the World Cup Golden Shoe, as his six goals topped the charts at the 1986 World Cup. Four years later, he scored four more in helping England finish fourth.
T7. Helmut Rahn (West Germany): 10
Rahn scored four goals in the 1954 World Cup, including the winner in West Germany’s upset of highly-favored Hungary in the final. In the 1958 World Cup, he scored six goals in helping West Germany finish fourth.
T13. Ademir (Brazil): 9
Ademir won the Golden Shoe in the 1950 World Cup in Brazil. There is some dispute about just how many goals he scored, however.
T13. Roberto Baggio (Italy): 9
Baggio scored twice in the 1990 World Cup in Italy, five times in Italy’s run to the final at World Cup 1994, and twice more in the 1998 World Cup.
T13. Eusebio (Portugal: 9
All nine of Eusebio’s goals came in the 1966 World Cup, as he won the Golden Shoe in leading Portugal to a third-place finish.
T13. Jairzinho (Brazil): 9
Jairzinho scored in all six of Brazil’s games in the 1970 World Cup, tallying seven goals total for the champions. He added two more in the 1974 World Cup.
T13. Paolo Rossi (Italy): 9
Rossi netted three times in the 1978 World Cup, but his crowning achievement came four years later. He won the Golden Shoe at the 1982 World Cup, scoring six goals to lead Italy to the title.
T13. Karl-Heinz Rummenigge (West Germany): 9
Rumenigge scored three goals in the 1978 World Cup, five in the 1982 World Cup, and one in his final World Cup in 1986.
T13. Uwe Seeler (West Germany): 9
Seeler’s goals were spread out over four World Cups. He scored twice in the 1958 World Cup, twice in the 1962 World Cup, twice more in the 1966 World Cup, and three times in the 1970 World Cup.
T13. Vava (Brazil): 9
Vava scored five goals in the 1958 World Cup, and four years later, he tied five others for the Golden Shoe with his four-goal showing. Three of his nine goals came in World Cup finals, a record he shares with teammate Pele, England’s Geoff Hurst, and France’s Zinedine Zidane.
T13. Christian Vieri (Italy): 9
Vieri scored five times in the 1998 World Cup, and he added four more in the 2002 World Cup. Were he fit in 2006, he could have added to his total.