Prolific striker leads charge towards Russia

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It is safe to assume that the 2018 World Cup in Russia will feature some of the grandest names in world football, and some of the most prolific.

Given that the finals are a little over two-and-a-half years away, and taking into account their respective ages, goals really shouldn’t be in short supply when the next global gathering of the sport’s elite takes place.

Lionel Messi, Barcelona and Argentina’s talisman, will be looking to cement his legacy by securing the one major honour still to be ticked off on his enviable roll of honour, while eternal rival Cristiano Ronaldo will want to carry domestic heroics at Real Madrid onto the international stage with Portugal.

The likes of Neymar (Brazil), Luis Suarez (Uruguay), Karim Benzema (France), Robert Lewandowski (Poland), Wayne Rooney (England) and Sergio Aguero (Argentina) are also likely to be in attendance, and will have their sights set on topping Golden Boot markets within international football betting.

All of the above can be expected to fill their boots on the road to Russia, but they may have to go some in order to arrive at the tournament as the top marksman in qualifying. For many, in particular those in Europe, that road is yet to be opened, with there the small matter of Euro 2016 to take in before then.

That process has, however, started in other corners of the world, and goals have been in plentiful supply.
In Asia, the quest to secure a ticket for football’s showpiece event has already reached the second round stage, with the cream of that particular crop having seen their focus narrowed from June 2015.

Opening up three years out from the event itself presents a long and winding road to those involved, but this is the nature of the beast and momentum established at this stage could deliver the richest of rewards.
Of those leading the charge, you would expect Australia, South Korea and Japan to figure prominently, and you would be right.

It is, however, Saudi Arabia who boast the freest scoring striker in the business at present. Saudi Arabia are a nation with a rich World Cup history – Saeed Al-Owairan against Belgium at USA 94 anyone? – but they have missed the last two tournaments, after appearing at four in a row prior to that, and have a few wrongs to right.

Mohammad Al-Sahlawi is certainly doing his bit to aid that cause, with a 28-year-old forward who will be unknown to many currently setting the pace in the goalscoring department.

Maybe that shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise – after all, he has plundered over 100 goals at club level and now has 22 in as many appearances for his country – but 13 efforts in six games is some going.
He opened his campaign with a brace against Palestine and has gone on to net a hat-trick against Timor-Leste at home, once against Malaysia, twice against the United Arab Emirates and a remarkable five-goal haul in a 10-0 rout of Timor on the road.

It would be a big ask to expect him to maintain those standards, but a man who plays his club football alongside former West Ham United striker Modibo Maiga at Al-Nassr, may well be gracing the grandest of stages at Russia 2018.