Messi out of running as Suarez and Van Persie chase unlikely top scorer in World Cup qualification

Deon McCaulay currently tops the strike list for reaching Brazil next summer, but a whole host of attacking pretenders can overtake the Belize star.
Lionel Messi's withdrawal from Argentina's squad for the final chunk of World Cup qualification games leaves the likes of Luis Suarez, Robin van Persie and Edin Dzeko in the running for the tag of top goalscorer on the road to Brazil, although an unlikely name currently tops what is an extensive list of contenders.

1. Deon McCaulay
 Belize 11
=2. Peter Byers
Antigua & B'da 10
=2. Lionel Messi
 Argentina  10
=2. Blas Perez
 Panama  10
=2. Luis Suarez Uruguay  10
6. Gonzalo Higuain
Argentina  9
=7. Jerry Bengston
Honduras  8
=7. Clint Dempsey USA  8
=7. Edin Dzeko
 Bosnia  8
=7. G Gope-Fenepej  New Caledonia  8
=7. Shinji Okazaki
 Japan  8
=7. Robin van Persie
 Netherlands  8
Belize's Deon McCaulay sits in pole position after racking up 11 goals in eight games. The 26-year-old forward struck four times in the first-round playoff, but his most impressive feat was scoring seven goals in six second-round games - despite his team being knocked out by Guatemala.

With Belize long since eliminated, the door is open for another to knock McCaulay off his perch.

Four-time Ballon d'Or winner Messi and compatriot Gonzalo Higuain - who have 10 and nine goals, respectively - would have been expected to leapfrog McCaulay in Argentina's final two games but injuries have seen them pull out of the already-qualified Albiceleste squad.

Antigua & Barbuda ace Peter Byers is another well-placed player who has no longer has any chance of adding to his tally of 10 goals, with his country's hopes of qualification having ended in the third round of the CONCACAF qualification campaign.

USA striker Clint Dempsey, on eight goals, must also watch from the sidelines with his nation having already sealed its spot in Brazil. However, Panama veteran Blas Perez could become a national hero by helping his country qualify for the first time, with the added incentive of individual glory if he sufficiently improves upon his impressive 10-goal haul.

Uruguay cannot afford to lose either of its final ties if the team wants to qualify for the World Cup, meaning Suarez's goalscoring ability will be much needed this month, as he looks to increase his tally of 10 goals. Radamel Falcao, meanwhile, has seven goals to his name and can fire Colombia to the 32-team finals with a win in the country's penultimate clash at home to Chile.

In Europe, Van Persie has helped book Netherlands' ticket to Brazil with his eight goals, but more weight rests on Dzeko's (also on eight goals) shoulders, with Bosnia & Herzegovina neck-and-neck with Greece in the race for automatic qualification.

However, it would be a huge shock if seven-goal Jordan attackers Hassan Abdel-Fattah and Ahmad Hayel added at least four goals to their respective totals in their playoff with the fifth-placed CONMEBOL qualifier.

New Zealand's Chris Wood could top Oceania's goalscorers' chart outright - ahead of New Caledonia's Georges Gope-Fenepej - with at least two goals in his nation's playoff with CONCACAF's fourth-place finisher in the region's fourth round of qualification.

No player in CAF qualification has scored over six goals, meaning the top scorer is most likely to come from the Americas, with UEFA, AFC and OFC providing outsiders in what is still a very competitive race.

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