With the domestic football season drawing to its conclusion, attention is slowly beginning to turn to the European Championships, which kicks off on Friday, 10th June.
With 24 teams heading to France for the month long tournament, opinion is split about who will emerge victorious, with the host nation currently battling world champions, Germany, for favouritism.
Back-to-back winners of the competition, Spain, along with England, Belgium, Italy and Portugal, also feature prominently in the bookmakers odds but the one market that is much more competitive than the outright winner is the race to win the Golden Boot.
There are currently 103 different names quoted in the race to be crowned Euro 2016 top scorer.
Four years ago, 53 different names managed to find the back of the net for their teams, with Spain’s Fernando Torres the eventual winner of the Golden Boot, with just three goals, beating five rivals, who also bagged three, by virtue of his one assist, whilst David Villa topped the charts with four goals, in 2008.
The increase in the number of teams from 16 to 24, sees the introduction of the round of 16 for the first time at the Euros, giving players an extra game to add to their tally for the tournament, so expect to see the winner of the Golden Boot to score more goals than their predecessors, at previous championships.
Here’s a look at the leading contenders heading to France, tasked to fire their country to glory.
Thomas Muller – 8/1
Germany’s Thomas Muller is the current favourite to be the Euro 2016 top scorer, and with good reason after the Bayern Munich striker has scored 11 goals in 16 international tournament starts, including the Golden Boot at the 2010 World Cup.
However, all 11 of those goals have come in 13 World Cup appearances, with the 26-year-old drawing a blank at Euro 2012.
That failure to score in the Euros four years ago may be enough for anyone thinking that Muller is a certainty to blaze a trail in France, to think twice, however, nine goals in nine Euro 2016 qualifiers, suggests he’s probably the nearest thing to a tournament ‘banker’ in the eyes of many fans!
A total of 32 goals in 65 starts for Germany gives Muller an impressive strike rate of a goal every two games, and for a team that has reached the semi finals of its last 24 tournaments, it’s pretty safe to assume that if Germany meet expectations, Muller will have a big say in matters.
Cristiano Ronaldo – 9/1
Linchpin of the Portugal team, Cristiano Ronaldo, is the only player with a better international strike rate than Muller, with 56 goals in 115 starts.
However, the Real Madrid star has struggled in major tournaments, scoring just nine in 28 starts.
He did score three in Austria and Poland four years ago, but was beaten to the Golden Boot by Torres, but prior to that, two goals was his best haul at an international event!
Portugal’s chances of Euro success will depend on Ronaldo, who scored five in six starts during qualifying, but his supporting cast is not as strong as past tournaments, and the Real Madrid star really must shine in France if his side is to reach the latter stages and other players are preferred.
Antoine Griezmann – 12/1
France striker, Antoine Griezmann, has shot to prominence on the back of his domestic form for Atletico Madrid, over the past couple of season, averaging a goal every 125 minutes since joining from Real Sociedad in 2014.
However, the 25-year-old has yet to discover that strike rate at international level, returning 13 goals for his 45 caps.
He has been starting for France in recent friendlies but has been out wide, with Olivier Giroud (20/1) and Andre-Pierre Gignac (33/1), getting the nod in the centre forward role from manager, Didier Deschamps.
Add to the equation the likes of Paul Pogba (100/1), Dimitri Payet (50/1) and Anthony Martial (25/1), and it’s pretty obvious why such an embarrassment of riches in front of goals has made the host nation the bookmakers choice to make home advantage count.
As such, the problem for Griezmann, or any of the French players gunning for the Golden Boot, is that the goals are likely to be shared amongst the team’s attacking talent and no one player stands out.
Harry Kane – 16/1
Much like Griezmann, Harry Kane has established himself as one of the hottest properties in European football courtesy of his domestic strike rate – with 45 Premier League goals in the past two seasons for Tottenham Hotspur.
During that time, he’s cemented his place in the England starting XI, scoring three in five qualifiers.
Euro 2016 will be Kane’s first taste of first team tournament football, but six goals in seven games at last year’s Under 21 Championship, illustrated he is more than capable of maintaining his eye for goal on the big stage, providing hope that England may finally have a player capable of firing the team to some form of acceptable performance in a tournament.
For the first time in living memory, England heads to a tournament with depth amongst its strikers, with Wayne Rooney (40/1), Daniel Sturridge (50/1), Jamie Vardy (40/1) and Danny Welbeck (66/1) all knowing where the net is.
However, it will be Kane that leads the line for Roy Hodgson’s men and as such, looks the most likely of the England squad to battle it out for the Golden Boot.
There is much debate about what role Rooney will play in France, but as England’s all time leading scorer, he is likely to play a significant one, as his seven goals from eight starts in qualifying proves.
However, with just two goals from 13 appearances in his last four tournaments, there’s a huge question about his impact on the big stage.
His four goals as an 18-year-old at Euro 2004 in Portugal, seems a lifetime ago, but his contribution and experience should not be underestimated.
Diego Costa – 25/1
Despite being 27 years old, Diego Costa has made just 10 starts for Spain, scoring one goal.
He is another player, who merits respect based on his goalscoring record for Chelsea and previously, Atletico Madrid, but with such a dismal return for his country it is hard to make any sort of case for him challenging for the Golden Boot in France.
Fellow countryman, Paco Alcácer, is perhaps a better choice for anyone looking for value in the top goalscorer betting.
The Valencia striker has been starting on regular basis for Vicente Del Bosque’s men, scoring five goals in eight starts during qualifying.
He’s scored 13 goes in La Liga this season and if he’s given the nod to start, the 33/1 could look a big price come the conclusion of the competition.
Also in the mix for Spain, is Juventus striker, Alvaro Borja, who is a highly touted prospect for the future, but this summer’s tournament could be too early for the 23-year-old, but look out for him at the World Cup in two years time.
Best of the rest
Of the other leading contenders to win the Golden Boot, look no further than Poland’s Robert Lewandowski – the Bayern Munich striker scored 13 goals in 10 games en route to France and has scored an average of one goal per game in Bundesliga, this season.
He’s a 16/1 chance, and whilst Poland aren’t tipped to make a huge impact, they would only need to reach the last eight for Lewandowski’s current strike rate to pay dividends from what would be five appearances at the tournament.
Romelu Lukaku is another name being talked about, with Belgium fancied by many to have a big tournament.
The 22-year-old has had a reasonable season for Everton with 18 goals, but his international record doesn’t mirror that, with just one goal from his last eight international appearances since the World Cup.
He’s a player that if Belgium does well, so will he, so he cannot be written off at odds of 16/1, but equally, there look to be more likely winners of the award.
No preview of the Golden Boot would be complete without Euope’s top domestic goalscorer this season, Zlatan Ibrahimovich.
A total of 34 goals for PSG this term means the Swedish striker will begin the tournament in red-hot form.
Whether he wins the Golden Boot will hinge on how well Sweden perform – the 34-year-old has scored two goals in all three of his previous European Championships, but Sweden has never gone beyond the round of 16 in that time, so if that trend continues, don’t expect Ibrahimovich to be challenging for the top scorer accolade.
In conclusion, there are a host of players in the reckoning to win the Golden Boot at Euro 2016 but it is worth noting that all 14 winners, dating back to the first championships in 1960, played for a team that reached at least the semi final.
As such, identify the teams that you think will reach the last four, before piking the one player from that quartet that will strike gold.
Odds quoted are taken from here.