As the countdown to Qatar 2022 continues, The Athletes Hub staff writers give their predictions for the World Cup:
Who Will Win the 2022 World Cup?
Jonathan Fearby- Brazil
I don’t think there’s a clear favorite this time, as the four major contenders look like Argentina, Brazil, England and France. I’ll go for Brazil on the grounds they have fewer issues to resolve than the other three. Tite does have a few selection headaches, most obviously who plays centre-forward, but Brazil have a strong defensive spine to the team, plenty of attacking options and are in fabulous form. They don’t look as dependent on Neymar as once they did, although it will be interesting to see if the in-form Gabriel Jesus has a role in Tite’s plans.
The acid test will as ever be how they cope with heavyweight European teams in the knockout phase, but prior to that they could come face to face with old foes Uruguay in the last 16. The biggest problem could be an ageing backline who lack the dynamic fullbacks of yesteryear, however Brazil are the closest team to the complete package.
Jack Watson – Argentina
South America’s champions are uniting for one man. Lionel Messi, a player who delivers so much for his country yet gained little reward until last year’s Copa America triumph. While Messi dominated the stats for that tournament, the main reason La Selección won their first major honour in 28 years. For the first time in a while, Argentina look like a team. Names to watch out for besides the PSG star include Tottenham centre-back Christian Romero, Aston Villa gaolie Emi Martinez, and Inter Milan striker Lautaro Martinez.
However, with time looming on Messi’s playing days as well as the elevated expectations following their recent high tide, Argentina may look at this World Cup as a ‘win or bust’ scenario, or at the very least an opportunity to redeem themselves after a horrifically chaotic showing in 2018. They didn’t buckle under pressure when facing fierce domestic rivals Brazil, but the global stage is a different beast, and it’s something which manager Lionel Scaloni must address heading into Qatar.
Tyler McDonald – France
A country hasn’t won back-to-back World Cups since 1958 and 1962 when Pelé led Brazil to the prestigious title. He won it when he was just a 17-year old and four years ago France was led by a teenager blossoming into a generational superstar, Kylian Mbappé. I think history will mirror itself a bit here with Mbappé leading the lines for France once again.
Admittedly, this France squad is not as strong as the one that made the run last year, but they still have a chunk of their core four years later. Not only do they have a returning solid defense led by the likes of Raphael Varane and Dayot Upamecano, but they also have an experienced striker coming off the best year of his career, Karim Benzema. France didn’t call him up last year but after winning the Ballon d’Or he’s reminded the world of his abilities and he’ll continue to shine in Qatar. There’s a lot of teams on similar levels this time around and France will struggle, but I think their quality will be enough to hoist the trophy yet again.
Who Wins the Golden Boot?
Jonathan- Harry Kane (England)
I think Harry Kane makes a bit of history here with back-to-back top scorer honors. Everything England do revolves around Kane and they have the likes of Foden, Grealish and Saka feeding him chances. He notched five goals in the group alone last time around and I think the defences in Group B will struggle to contain him. He is also his country’s designated penalty taker which is always handy if you want to be top-scorer.
Jack – Olivier Giroud (France)
Giroud is on a mission to become France’s leading goal-scorer. However, his tally ends is likely to be caught up by the boundlessly-talented Kylian Mbappe, but for right now, I’d wager on Giroud leapfrogging Thierry Henry. On his current form, having just scored two and assisted two against Salzburg in the Champions League, it would be moronic for Didier Deschamps not to give the AC Milan striker a prominent role, even just in the group stages to give Giroud a better scoring chance against Tunisia or Australia.
Tyler – Karim Benzema (France)
There’s a few different names that come to mind when trying to decide this. I could’ve gone with Ronaldo, Mbappé, Messi, or even Harry Kane. However, I think the most recent Ballon d’Or winner will prove why he was crowned the worlds best player. There will be a healthy amount of rotation in the France squad with their depth, but he should see the most minutes at the nine. He’s great in clutch moments and in the knockout stage, that’s all there is.
Which team will be the biggest casualty of the group phase?
Finalists four years ago Croatia look like a boom or bust team this time. The midfield is immensely talented but they’ve lack a reliable goal scorer since Mario Mandzukic retired and they don’t have a dependable goalkeeper. As ever much will depend on Luka Modric but this looks like the last knockings for a great generation of Croatian football. Belgium should win this group but underdogs Morocco and Canada both have the potential to be dangerous so Croatia could be in trouble.
Jack – Portugal
The mood is pretty low for Portugal right now. Fernando Santos’ playstyle on his team is grating on fans, especially now that results are dipping, with the days of their Euros and Nations League victories having long since vanished. Santos’ stubbornness to move away from his pragmatic approach is not only making a squad filled with supreme talents appear timid and weak, but it is seriously hurting their chances of making something happen at the World Cup. Portugal don’t even have the usual heroics of Ronaldo to rescue them, as his soap opera act over trying to leave Man United in the transfer window has backfired him into inconsistent playing time.
Tyler – Mexico
For the last seven World Cups, Mexico has managed to get out of the group stages. That long run will finally come to an end. They’re in one of the toughest groups this year with Argentina and Poland giving them legit competition in the group. I think Poland will do just enough to squeak out a win over Mexico and send them through to the next round. The last couple of years the Mexican goal-scorer, Raúl Jiménez has been falling off and I don’t think he’ll resurrect his form at Qatar. This, along with the stiff competition in the group will add up to a disappointing World Cup for Mexico.
Who will be the Surprise Package?
Serbia deservedly topped Portugal’s group in qualifying and I can see them having a run at the finals. When Alexsandar Mitrovic is in form Serbia are dangerous and he’s enjoying a good season in the Premier League, add to that the attacking talents of Dusan Tadic, Dusan Vlahovic and Filip Kostic and Serbia will be dangerous and able to keep possession for long spells.. They are vulnerable at the back which will eventually do for them but they should be fun to watch, incidentally their second round match could be a rematch with Ronaldo and Portugal.
Jack – Canada
Canada do not have the makings of a winning team, but the talent at their disposal should raise some eyebrows. They had a long path of qualification to book their spot in Qatar, but ended it as the best CONCACAF team, finishing above Mexico and the US. The obvious names to point out include Alphonso Davies and Jonathan David, but this side have risen so high because of the entire team’s collective effort. That effort paid off in a first World Cup finals appearance since 1986, with the question now being how they’ll perform. From the outside perspective, a prideful group stage outing would be expected, but Canada can very well ride the wave of momentum they’ve enjoyed in recent years to cause a shock or two.
Tyler – Ecuador
Group A is going to be one of the most interesting groups to look at this year. Netherlands are the clear favorites there (even they can disappoint) but what really stands out is how competitive it’ll be at 2nd and 3rd. Normally Senegal would be favored to get out of the group, but with the absence of Sadio Mané will be felt by this Senegal squad. Ecuador is feeling more and more confident that they can get the results they need to get out of the group with a weakened Senegal. Qatar should really be no trouble for anyone in that group either.
How Far will the Hosts get?
Jonathan- Group Phase
Qatar won’t get out of the group. The draw is tough with Netherlands and AFCON winners Senegal so to have any hope they have to win the opener against Ecuador who are a solid looking team with a goal in them. Qatar do have a lot of experience playing together with most of their first 11 holding more than 50 caps which will be a major advantage and they showed in shadow qualifiers they can compete with welterweight teams. Hosts always out-perform expectations (South Africa aside) but the step up in quality looks too much for Qatar to bridge.
Jack – Group Phase
There’s a lot of reasons to be skeptical of this World Cup, and the hosts are a major reason for that. This will be Qatar’s first ever World Cup. They finished bottom of their qualification group in the Asian qualifiers for Russia 2018, and it was a similar story for Germany 2006 where they couldn’t make the proper qualification round, with second-to-last finishes in 2010 and 2014 rounding out their recent history. Their most capped player is captain Hassan Al-Haydos, who plays for Al-Sadd in the country’s domestic Qatar Stars League, which is where all the other players are currently based at. It would take a miracle for the hosts to get out their group, and I put enough faith in Netherlands, Senegal, and Ecuador to stop that madness from happening.
Tyler – Group Phase
As I said, Qatar should be no trouble for anyone in group A. Qatar has never qualified for the World Cup and are only here because they’re the hosts. Their squad has some international experience, but experience and success aren’t synonymous I’m sure the natives will enjoy watching their country, but they will only see three matches and they might all be blowouts.
Who will be the tournament breakout star?
Jonathan- Cody Gakpo (Netherlands)
I expect Jude Bellingham and Jamal Musiala to be the outstanding young talents of the tournament but both are already huge stars. Dutch forward Cody Gakpo is enjoying a stellar season with PSV and I think he’ll transfer that form to the World Cup. The group looks a nice one for the Dutch but with Georginio Wijnaldum injured someone will need to step up and provide goals and I think Gakpo will be their main man. Expect a glut of clubs to be bidding for his services in January.
Jack – Charles De Ketelaere (Belgium)
Rumors recently surfaced that Newcastle want to snag Belgian wonderkid De Ketelaere away from AC Milan for a reported fee of £28m, and that’s despite his middling start to life at the San Siro. It’s obvious they see something in the 21-year-old that could be seen by the watching world in Qatar – if he’s played, that is. Manager Roberto Martinez said in August that can “play all the roles in attack” which could be a boon for Belgium should he get back to his best. A team who’ve been stuck in the category of good but not good enough when it comes to winning major tournaments, the versatility De Ketelaere can offer might be exactly what the Red Devils need to get out their rigidness and make that next step up before it slips away.
Tyler – Yunus Musah (USA)
I might be a bit bias here picking an American, but I’ve got the US to get out of the group stages and compete in the round of 16. I think that sets the stage for some young players to really shine. I believe players like Christian Pulisic and Weston McKennie will perform well, but they’re already recognized stars. Yunus Musah is just 19 years old and even Gareth Southgate with all his quality available tried to sway Musah to play for England. The young midfielder has pace and a great engine which are two traits that tend to make a difference at World Cups. He’s even started to gain the attention of Barcelona and after this World Cup, he’ll have the world’s attention.
Of the Veteran Stars who’ll have the biggest Last Hurrah?
Jonathan- Gareth Bale (Wales)
Messi will probably go farthest in the tournament but I think Bale will shine in what’s probably his swansong. Even when he was barely playing for Real Madrid, Bale did the business for Wales and got the big goals to get them to Qatar. Playing in LA gives him a nice build up to the finals. Wales are built around Bale and the high pressing styles of their group opponents may give Bale the space to thrive in when Wales get him the ball. At two European Championships he’s turned on the style and I think he’ll do the same again, which might make LA FC fans squirm given Wales’ opener is against the US.
Jack – Luka Modric (Croatia)
One of those players with an honors list that takes several breaths to read out, Luka Modric is a master of the modern game. Real Madrid fans say he has aged like a fine wine, and he was pivotal to their Champions League win last season, but Croatia’s captain confirmed that Qatar will be his last tournament played at international level. It’s fully understandable. Time does you no favours, especially at the age of 37, but it begs the question of what’ll be considered a good World Cup from Modric. In Russia, he won everything besides the main prize, being awarded the Golden Ball to merit him as the best player, a feat which was solidified by his Ballan d’Or win later in 2018. Given how impressive Modric continues to be for club and country, there’s no reason to think he can’t string up another fireworks display in midfield.
Tyler – Cristiano Ronaldo (Portugal)
I had to go with one of the GOATs here as I think Ronaldo and Messi will both have solid World Cups, but as we know Ronaldo is a goal scoring machine. The two of them have shared the stage of world football for the last 15 years and the most fitting way for the two of them to go out is in a blaze of glory. Despite all the controversy at Manchester United right now I believe Ronaldo still has the quality to perform at a very high level. I don’t think Portugal have a deep run in them, but I do think Ronaldo will score loads of goals and be an overall positive point for Portugal. There’s a chance he could even win the golden boot. At 37, this will undoubtedly be his last World Cup and with the world watching, we all know what CR7 is capable of.