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We are down to the quarterfinals at the World Cup, and most of the top heavyweights have made it to the final eight, including five of the world’s top-seven teams: No. 1 Brazil, No. 2 Spain, No. 4 Netherlands, No. 6 Germany and No. 7 Argentina.
And what these powerhouses all have in common is at least one superstar to keep an eye on. So with that, here are the World Cup Players to Watch for the final few matches of the 2010 tournament.
The two leading favorites to end as this tournament’s leading goalscorer are Argentina’s Gonzalo Higuain and Spain’s David Villa, who are both tied for the lead with four (so is Slovakia’s Robert Vittek, but the Slovaks are out).
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Villa is the current Bodog favorite at 2-1 to win the Golden Boot as he is rolling with four total goals in the past three matches, including the lone tally in the quarterfinals against Portugal side that hadn’t allowed a goal in this tournament. With four goals in three consecutive World Cup matches, Villa has equaled the Spanish record set by Zarra in 1950.
Higuain, meanwhile, has the tournament’s only hat trick, coming in a 4-1 win over South Korea in Argentina’s second group stage match. He also scored in the Argentines’ 3-1 over Mexico in the quarters. Higuain, who is currently 11/4 to be top goalscorer, might have a few more if he had been allowed to play in the group stage finale against Greece, but that game was all but meaningless for his side so Coach Diego Maradona rested Higuain.
Higuain’s teammate, Lionel Messi, is the reigning FIFA World Player of the Year but has yet to score a goal in this World Cup and has struggled to find the net with the national team. He still is the co-leader in this tournament for shots with 23. And Argentina’s Carlos Tevez had two goals against Mexico.
The other leader in shots is Ghana’s Asamoah Gyan, who also has three goals to rank second. Of course, U.S. soccer fans may remember that name as Gyan scored the game-winner in the Round of 16 against the Americans. “The goal was one of the best of my career. I was pushed from behind and I should have fallen down [to claim a penalty] but I resisted and I made it happen,” he said. Gyan is a bit nicked up but will play against Uruguay in the quarters.
Speaking of Uruguay, it has two stars on the top of their games in Luis Suarez (three goals, one assists) and Diego Forlan (two goals and an assist). Forlan was a winner of two golden boots as Europe's top club scorer in 2004-05 and 2008-09 and had two goals for Atletico in the Europa Cup final in May.
Germany has a three-headed attack of Thomas Mueller (three goals, three assists), Lukas Podolski (two goals, one assist) and Miroslav Klose (two goals). All three scored in the 4-1 romp of England, with Mueller finding the net twice. That match was the second time in this tournament Germany has scored four goals.
The Dutch have two players to watch in Arjen Robben and Wesley Sneijder – they both scored in the 2-1 Round of 16 win over Slovakia. Robben hadn’t been at full health in this tournament but appears to be now, and that makes the Netherlands very dangerous heading into its quarterfinal with Brazil.
And perhaps no team can match the offensive power of the Brazilians, led by Luis Fabiano, Elano, Robinho and Macion. Fabiano leads the team with three goals and is the third-favorite on Bodog for the Golden Boot at 9/2. Elano, by the way, will not face the Dutch on Friday because of an ankle injury. He scored in Brazil’s first two matches but hasn’t played since.