A national team’s leading scorer holds a unique status. He is the face of the nation.
ESPN examined the nations in the 2022 World Cup and the progression of their leading scorers in the modern era.
Using decades of data, we created composite faces of each nation’s top scorers.
Faces of World Cup Nations
Argentina have won the World Cup twice, once in 1978 on home soil and again in 1986 in Mexico, where Diego Maradona scored the "Hand of God" goal and the Goal of the Century against England in the quarterfinals, two of the most memorable in the history of the tournament. Argentina (18) are behind only Brazil (22) and Germany (20) in number of World Cup appearances, too. Can they make this one count?
Lionel Messi has said this will be his last World Cup. After heartbreak in the 2014 final against Germany, can he lead them to glory in Qatar and lift the one trophy that's eluded him during his career? Off the back of winning the 2021 Copa America, Argentina look ready for action.
One of the best strikers of his generation, Aguero scored 41 goals in 101 games for Argentina, played in three World Cups and helped them win the 2021 Copa America.
The Manchester City forward made his debut for Argentina in June 2021 after turning heads at River Plate, and looks ready to advance on the international scene.
Argentina are favorites, but the Saudis breezed through qualifying and won't be easy to beat.
Nov. 22, 5 a.m. ET
With 14 appearances at the World Cup, Belgium won their first-ever game at the tournament in 1970 against El Salvador. Their best performances came in 1986 when they finished fourth, and most recently in Russia 2018, when they finished in third place. Belgium is one of the most talented teams to have never won a World Cup. Ranked No. 2 in the world, can they change that in Qatar?
With players such as Kevin De Bruyne, Eden Hazard, Thibaut Courtois and Romelu Lukaku, on paper they look like one of the favorites. First, they have to overcome Morocco, Canada and Croatia in the group stage. For this golden generation of Belgian players, Qatar 2022 could be the last shot at World Cup glory.
Captain of his country since 2015, he led Belgium to third place in Russia 2018 and received the Silver Ball as the second-best player of the tournament.
At 21 years old, the AC Milan midfielder has 10 international caps and provides hope for the future generation of Belgian players.
Expect fireworks as a strong Belgian side takes on a Canada team that topped CONCACAF qualifying.
Nov. 23, 2 p.m. ET
The most successful team in the history of the FIFA World Cup, Brazil have won the tournament a record five times, the last time being 2002. They are also the only team to play in every single World Cup. The country is known for producing legendary players and a style of football that both entertains and looks easy on the eye, known as "Joga Bonito."
FIFA ranks Brazil No. 1 in the world. They lost to Belgium in the quarterfinals in 2018, but they now look as dangerous as ever. With no shortage of options in attack, a strong centre-back pairing and depth in midfield, head coach Tite has one of the most balanced squads in the tournament. Are the stars aligning for Brazil?
The third-highest goal scorer for Brazil and one of 20 players to win the World Cup twice, O Fenomeno was unstoppable in his prime.
The Real Madrid winger goes past players with ease and has sharpened his scoring skills. Look for him to make the difference in Qatar.
Brazil will need to dig in against a tough Serbian side and will be put to the test.
Nov. 24, 2 p.m. ET
The "birthplace" of the sport, England fans will all be chanting "it's coming home" this winter in Qatar. After the heartbreak of losing to Italy on penalties in the Euro 2020 final at Wembley Stadium, Gareth Southgate's side will look to put their recent poor form behind them and contend here as well. England won their first and only World Cup title in 1966 on home soil, and will look to improve on their semifinal finish in 2018.
Southgate has arguably the best England squad in recent years, with established players such as Harry Kane alongside up-and-coming stars like Bukayo Saka and Jude Bellingham. They boast a deep talent pool of players who can cause trouble for any side. It will come down to tactics and squad harmony if they're to go deep in Qatar.
A ruthless finisher, Shearer won the Golden Boot for England in Euro 1996 and is also the Premier League's record goal scorer.
As the 2018 World Cup's top scorer, Kane led England to a fourth-place finish and is just three goals shy of becoming his country's top goal scorer.
Drawn in a blockbuster of a group, England will kick off against an experienced Iran side coached by former Man United assistant Carlos Quieroz.
Nov. 21, 8 a.m. ET
They're the defending World Cup champions, but France are coming off a poor showing in the Nations League while also facing off-field drama and injuries to key players as well. They won the FIFA World Cup 20 years apart, in 1998 and 2018, and will look to break the winners' curse this winter in Qatar. Regardless of being without Paul Pogba and N'Golo Kante, the star-studded side are still one of the favorites.
If France retains the World Cup, they will be the first country to do so since Brazil won in 1958 and 1962. Kylian Mbappe, Hugo Lloris, Karim Benzema and Aurelien Tchouameni are some of the standout players at Didier Deschamps' disposal.
As France's third-highest goal scorer and with over 100 caps for country, Griezmann won man of the match in the 2018 World Cup final.
After Pele, he's the second teenager to score in a World Cup final and will no doubt be the biggest threat against opponents in Qatar.
Didier Deschamps' Les Bleus will start their title defense against the Socceroos, who barely clinched a ticket to Qatar after defeating Peru on penalties.
Nov. 22, 2 p.m. ET
Behind Brazil, Germany are the second-most successful team in the history of the World Cup, having won the title four times and finished runners-up four times, with their most recent title in 2014 against Argentina when Mario Gotze scored in extra time to clinch the victory. A highlight of that tournament, and one of the wildest games in World Cup history, was their 7-1 rout of Brazil in the semifinals.
Head coach Hansi Flick has a deep squad to choose from, with experienced players like Thomas Muller, Leroy Sane and Manuel Neuer alongside promising youth like Jamal Musiala and Youssoufa Moukoko. The Germans might not be a front-runner yet to win in Qatar, but all eyes will be on Flick as he manages them for the first time in a major tournament.
With more than 130 international caps, Podolski took part in seven major tournaments with Germany and was on the 2014 World Cup winning squad.
The 19-year-old represented England and Germany at youth level, but committed to the latter in 2021 and is a star in the making.
The Germans will not underestimate a Japanese side that reached the round of 16 in 2018 and in the World Cup, anything can happen.
Nov. 23, 8 a.m. ET
Mexico are fifth on the all-time list of World Cup participants, having qualified for 17 tournaments since 1930. El Tri have even hosted the World Cup twice: 1970 was the first World Cup to be shown on color TVs, while they stepped in to host in 1986 after Colombia withdrew due to being financially unable to fulfill their duties. Yet they've famously failed to reach the quarterfinals since the '80s, a curse known as the "quintido partido" (fifth game). What will 2022 bring?
Worryingly for El Tri fans, they're not in great form and are likely bringing a squad filled with question marks to Qatar this winter. Embattled manager Gerardo "Tata" Martino and his side lost both the CONCACAF Nations League and Gold Cup to eternal rivals the USMNT in the final. Can they rally -- without Chicharito and Carlos Vela, who won't be called up -- in a tough group with Argentina, Saudi Arabia and Poland?
Blanco scored at three different World Cups (1998, 2002, 2010) over a 17-year career with the national team, finishing third on the all-time goals list for Mexico.
Still just 21, the Feyenoord forward has already scored twice for El Tri since making his debut in 2021 and fans should feel good that he chose Mexico over Argentina, where he was born.
If El Tri are to have any hope, they'll need to start strong against the other team likely to rival them for a last-16 spot. If they can stop Robert Lewandowski, they have a chance.
Nov. 22, 11 a.m. ET
The Dutch have contributed so much to world soccer -- Johan Cruyff, anyone? -- and yet have been perpetually disappointed at the World Cup, finishing runner-up three times (1974, 1978, 2010), third (2014) and fourth (1998). For all their talent, they've been unable to get over that final hurdle. Having cruised into the 2022 tournament as winners of a qualifying group containing Turkey, Norway, Montenegro, Latvia and Gibraltar only to be drawn into a generous group, it remains to be seen whether they have the firepower to take advantage.
The main question for the Oranje this winter is simple: who's scoring the goals? They have a rock-solid defense led by Liverpool's Virgil van Dijk, a midfield rich with creativity (Frenkie de Jong, Steven Berghuis) and plenty of talented wide players such as PSV's Cody Gakpo and Steven Bergwijn, but only Memphis Depay has hit double-digit goals for the national team in this current generation. They should cruise through the group stage, but that might be it unless they can find goals to go with their grit.
Named to the FIFA 100, a list of the greatest-ever players as selected by Pele himself, in 2004, Kluivert was instrumental over a 10-year national team career in which he scored a goal every two games.
While he's still developing into a versatile threat along the forward line, Malen scored in his national team debut -- against Germany, no less -- in 2019.
The Dutch should cruise to the last-16 given the draw, but a raw defense will be tested to the fullest in their opener.
Nov. 21, 11 a.m. ET
With just one World Cup finals appearance in the first 50-plus years of the competition, it's clear South Korea have grown into their role as a powerhouse out of Asia capable of competing with the world's best. They haven't missed a World Cup since 1986, hitting their peak as co-hosts in 2002 (with Japan) when they finished fourth, topping a group including the USA, Portugal and Poland before shocking Italy and Spain in the knockout stages, only to lose 1-0 to Germany in the semifinals.
With a squad consisting largely of players based in the domestic league, South Korea will rely on that familiarity in order to remain stubborn behind the ball, springing established European stars such as Son and Hwang on the counterattack. The rapid progress of defender Kim Min-Jae at Napoli should also give them an added layer of protection and confidence. A group containing Ghana, Portugal and Uruguay looks daunting, but could be exploited in order to reach the last 16.
Nicknamed "Cha boom" for his powerful shots, he scored almost 100 goals over a decade in the German Bundesliga and topped South Korea's all-time goals list, but only got to appear at one World Cup (1986).
He's already 26, but fired in three goals during 2022 qualifying and will be expected to benefit from opponents paying extra attention to Son Heung-Min around the penalty area.
The Celeste aren't the force they once were, but Luis Suarez, Edinson Cavani and Darwin Nunez will push South Korea to the limit. Getting points will be crucial given tougher tests ahead.
Nov. 24, 8 a.m. ET
Appearing in 16 World Cups and winning once in 2010, La Roja are a team to beware this winter. Having peaked in South Africa with a 1-0 win over the Dutch in the final -- which gave us the unforgettable image of midfielder Xabi Alonso taking a flying kick in the ribs from Nigel de Jong -- they have struggled since, failing to escape the group stage in 2014 (including a 5-1 loss to the Netherlands) and being stunned on penalties by host nation Russia in 2018's round of 16.
Following the retirements of influential midfield duo Andres Iniesta (now playing in Japan) and Xavi (now managing Barcelona), Spain's next generation of young stars has already emerged in style since the last World Cup. The dynamism and drive of Gavi, Pedri and Ansu Fati isn't burdened by the failures of recent tournaments and helped La Roja compile a 6-1-1 record in qualifying, though the draw has been harsh, with Germany, Japan and Costa Rica awaiting in Group E.
Scorer of over 228 goals over 16 brilliant seasons with Real Madrid -- making him the fifth-highest scorer in LaLiga history -- Raul was just as prolific for the national team, notching 44 in 102 games.
After navigating some injuries sustained for Barcelona, Fati has the brightness and flair to contribute plenty of goals for Spain over the next decade.
The 2010 champions face arguably their easiest Group E opponent first up in CONCACAF qualifiers Costa Rica, which should be good preparation for a bigger test against Germany in their second group game.
Nov. 23, 11 a.m. ET
The Swiss have been in several World Cups since their debut in 1934, but they have not set the kind of records you'd necessarily celebrate. For example, they lost 7-5 to Austria in the quarterfinals (their best-ever finish) as hosts in 1954, marking the highest-scoring World Cup game ever. They also made history in 2006 as the first team to be eliminated without conceding a goal: having topped a group containing France, Togo and South Korea, they lost on penalties against Ukraine following a 0-0 draw. After back-to-back last-16 appearances in 2014 and 2018, what kind of mark will they make in Qatar?
Like several other teams in this competition, the Swiss lean heavily on a bunch of aging stars who will likely retire before the 2026 edition, and so their veteran experience will be the thing that defines their performance. They'll need every ounce of that nous if they're to escape a group containing Serbia, Brazil and Ghana.
He enjoyed a winding, fascinating career around Europe, playing for 10 clubs over 15 years, but was a steady score for the national team, notching 34 goals in 64 games, good for second in the Swiss all-time charts.
The Cameroon-born striker has dazzled at the club level for teams like Borussia Monchengladbach and Monaco, and the 25-year-old will be expected to step into the lead forward's role during the next World Cup cycle and beyond.
Their first test comes in the form of Group G's wild-card team and they'll need to apply themselves if they're to get off to a good start given that games against Brazil and Serbia await.
Nov. 24, 5 a.m. ET
The USA has a difficult relationship with the World Cup: having been one of the countries invited to the first tournament in 1930, they even beat England in 1950, only to then endure a 40-year drought before qualifying for the 1990 World Cup in Italy. Since then, it's been all about sky-high expectations and crushing disappointment, from a quarterfinal appearance in 2002 to missing out entirely in 2018. Having always seemed to be one or two players short of taking on the elite teams, they'll come to Qatar with a young, aggressive and talented team. Will it be enough?
Having missed the 2018 tournament in painful fashion -- we won't mention Couva! -- and with the prestige of being one of the three hosts in 2026, the pressure's on to show their best in Qatar, not least because this is arguably the most talented and deepest generation of players the nation's ever had at one time. If all the stars -- Christian Pulisic, Weston McKennie, Giovanni Reyna -- are healthy and on the field, anything can happen.
While the 33-year-old hasn't featured for the USMNT since 2019 given the shift toward younger players, he has certainly contributed plenty of timely goals for the U.S. over 115 appearances dating back to 2007.
It's hard to know which forward of the next generation will truly reach his potential, but the Texas-born Pepi feels a solid bet since making his NT debut in August 2021, especially after scoring three goals in qualifying last fall.
There's no hiding or easy outs for Gregg Berhalter's side in Group B, and while they should fancy their chances of advancing, they know what Gareth Bale (who has starred briefly for LAFC in 2022) is capable of.
Nov. 21, 2 p.m. ET
Winners of two World Cups (1930, 1950), Uruguay's relationship with the tournament hasn't been as lucrative in the modern era, with three fourth-place finishes (1954, 1970, 2010) and two quarterfinal appearances (1966, 2018) their best efforts since. They even failed to qualify for three of the past seven World Cups, making this winter a great chance to stake their position. Having breezed through qualifying despite losing all four games (home and away) to Brazil and Argentina, expectations for them in Qatar are sensible and modest.
Uruguay are approaching a difficult transition as many of their best players are in their 30s and the next generation hasn't yet emerged as viable for the rigors of top-level international soccer. Will Diego Godin (36 years old), Edinson Cavani (35) and Suarez (35) be able to go out on a high note? If they don't, it could be a while until the CONMEBOL side are back at a World Cup proper.
The former Man United and PSG striker is approaching the end of his career (he turns 36 in February) but is second on the all-time scoring charts behind Suarez, managing 58 in 133 appearances since 2008.
The Liverpool striker is still adjusting to the Premier League, but he profiles to be a fine heir to Uruguay's attack and at 23 years old, he should be a force for another decade.
This Group H clash is likely to set the tone for who whoever joins Portugal (we presume) in the last 16.
Nov. 24, 8 a.m. ET