ylian Mbappe, Olivier Giroud and Lionel Messi
GOLDEN BOOT HOPEFULS (from left): Kylian Mbappe, Olivier Giroud and Lionel Messi. They have three games each to clinch the top-scorer award. Image Credit: Agencies

Four teams and four games (both semifinals included) remain in the Qatar World Cup, and there’s no clear leader in the race for the Golden Boot. Kylian Mbappe heads the scoring charts with five goals, which doesn’t make the Frenchman a hot favourite to win the top-scorer award.

Lionel Messi and Olivier Giroud are breathing down Mbappe’s neck with four apiece. All three players have three games (including the third-place match) to clinch the award. Who will win? My guess is as good as yours.

Mbappe has been having an excellent tournament. Never mind that he had a quiet game against England, barring a couple of electrifying runs. His speed and skills have fetched five goals. Two of them have been breathtaking: both came against Poland. He was also the architect of four other French goals in the tournament.

Mbappe’s records

The 23-year-old stepped into the World Cup spotlight four years ago by scoring twice against Argentina. That put him in the company of the great Pele. Since then, Mbappe has been terrorising the opposition. He now owns the record for most World Cup goals (9 in 12 appearances) before turning 24. Five goals in Qatar puts the Paris Saint-German striker in pole position to walk away with the Golden Boot.

If Mbappe doesn’t get you, Giroud will: that’s what France’s clash with England showed us. The 23-year-old attracted the attention of two or three defenders, giving Giroud the space to operate. Yet the former Arsenal and Chelsea poacher didn’t get too many touches. He got two, and he made them count. The first, a stab at a cross, flew straight to goalie Jordan Pickford and the second, a header from a well-weighted Antoine Griezmann cross, screamed into the English net. That’s the goal that hauled France into the semifinals.

Giroud the lurking danger

Giroud could add more to his tally. He may not be visible in the field; Giroud prefers to lurk in the shadows. The rival penalty box is his playpen. Giroud may not have the pace and athleticism of Mbappe, but his finishing skills are deadly. When the slightest of chances emerge, he is there to hammer the ball home. He’s been so effective that Karim Benzema’s absence is barely noticed.

When France go up against Morroco on Wednesday, Giroud will be a marked man. Walid Regrarui’s team is fully aware of the danger the French spearhead poses. They wouldn’t want Giroud to be the first opponent to score against them in Qatar. Stubborn defences have never worried Giroud, which puts him among the favourites for the top-scorer award.

Messi is the lone-Frenchman and the only Latin American in the hunt for the Golden Boot. The Argentinian talisman has been conjuring magic in every game to lift his team into what could be his last World Cup. Messi’s dribbling and through passes have helped Argentina scythe through rival defences.

Messi’s magical pass

Remember Argentina’s second goal against the Netherlands in the quarterfinals. A swift spell of dribbing and a precisely threaded pass past the Dutch defenders found Nahuel Molina, who lashed the ball home. It was scarcely believable. That’s the impact Messi’s been having in a tournament he wants to make his own. So he would be keen to add the Golden Boot to the World Cup. They would look good on his mantlepiece.

That’s not easy. Mbappe and Giroud will want to make France the first side after Brazil in 1962 to defend the title. Looks like the Golden Boot race will go down to the wire.