QATAR 2022- Predictions

Predicting football tournaments can often make one look a bit foolish. But where’s the fun if we got everything right? Or if we don’t want a few surprises? With just under 24 hours to go, and no domestic competitions for the next few weeks, the biggest trophy in football awaits!

GROUP STAGES

GROUP A

The obvious choice for group winner here is the Dutch. Unrivalled quality, a coach in LVG back for one last swansong- apart from being a favorite to win the group, they are definitely a contender to go all the way and redeem their total failure to qualify in 2018.

In second, I have Senegal. At least one team from the African continent always seems to have a good run into the KO phase, and the current AFCON champions are my pick. The majority of their squad plays at a higher level domestically compared to the Ecuador/Qatar squads, and they will be desperate to last long enough in the tournament for Sadio Mane to participate and possibly make a difference.

To round off I have Ecuador in third as the South Americans just may not have enough to overcome the European and African giants and unfortunately for Qatar, there will be no repeat of Russia’s run as hosts in 2018, but, this is the FIFA World Cup after all and a shock or two has been known to happen.

GROUP B

England topping the group would not be a surprise (unfortunately neither would them crashing out), but every game in this group is a rivalry for them on some level, whether historically or politically and they will be sure to be up for it.

USA is my pick for second. They will be desperate to make up for missing out in 2018 at the hands of T&T and as joint hosts for 2026, will give the world a reminder that the USA is more to football than just the good PR of Ted Lasso and Ryan Reynolds.

Wales, sadly will fall short in third. An ageing talisman more interested in golf in Gareth Bale has his best days behind him, and Iran, while no pushovers, and always liable for a surprise, will finish fourth.

GROUP C

Another easy pick for group winner in Argentina. One of the GOATs is coming off good form at PSG and this is the last roll of the dice for him. The South American giants have a squad balanced with youth and experience and are another favorite to win it all.

I have Mexico in second in this group, but it is dicey between them and Poland. Both squads have established members but newer faces. Their head to head encounter will be crucial. But El Tri always seem to find a way out of the group stage (before falling short) and the legend that is Ochoa will no doubt be key to this.

For Lewandowski and his troops it will be disappointment and Saudi Arabia, despite markedly improving over the years, will have to settle at the bottom.

GROUP D

France. Defending Champions. Group winners. Not much more need be said. Despite the injuries, they run deep. I am counting on them to break the running curse of defending champions being eliminated in the group phase.

Denmark in second. Quietly amassing an experienced and talented squad in recent time, their Euros showing was a sign that they are to be taken seriously. Their talisman in midfield in Eriksen is back and they will be hoping to have a deep run in the KO stage.

Tunisia have done themselves no injustice in recent international tournaments. Solid, but they do not have enough to do more than third and Australia, a diminishing force since 2014, will round off the group.

GROUP E

Germany, but only just, will finish as group winners, who need to make up for 2018’s disappointment. Spain are a close second. Both have underwhelmed after their respective World Cup wins. But history tells us Germany is to be favoured.

However, in no way are the other two in this group pushovers. Japan in third, Costa Rica in fourth. Japan’s run in 2018 was incredible, their teamwork and discipline failing them only at the very last against Belgium and they will bring the same qualities again. Costa Rica has always been that sneaky CONCACAF team liable to cause an upset (or three) as in 2014 and should not be slept on. Both teams have very good opportunities to cause shocks against two ‘rebuilding’ European giants.

GROUP F

Winner- Belgium. No shock on the cards here. One of the most talented squads of the last decade, they finally seem to be putting it together on the World Stage- see their 3rd place finish in 2018. Their Euros campaign left a lot to be desired however and Martinez will have to ensure the wealth of talent can, at least, take the next step into the final.

Controversially, I have Canada in second. Hear me out. They finished top of the CONCACAF qualifying, and for a few games, without star man Alphonso Davies. Their first World Cup since 1986 suggests they have gotten their squad quality and balance right. They are also co-hosts in 2026 and will be desperate to use this as a dress rehearsal to put the rest of the world on notice. Davies aside, they have some other recognizable names at the top level, like Jonathan David, Junior Hoilett and Porto’s Stephen Eustaquio.

Morocco third, Croatia fourth. I fear the Croats’ cycle is up. They were at the peak of their powers in 2018 and I do not expect a repeat. The Euros were not kind to them. They beat Scotland. That’s it. The glorified friendlies of the Nations League count for little. They will find it difficult to get past the vigour of Canada and a Moroccan team of underrated but well known players like Saiss, Mazraoui, Amrabat, Boufal and of course, stars Hakimi and Ziyech.

GROUP G

Brazil. Clear winners. Clear front runners, if we’re honest, for this tournament. I envisage little difficulty in them advancing.

The rest of the pack, it really is a toss up. I’ll go for Serbia in second. They have some scary options in midfield and attack which will likely propel them past their European and African counterparts.

Switzerland never seem to impress much, even in the group stage but they will have the experience and know how for a third place finish. Cameroon may not have many standout names and will work hard, but they did not qualify for 2018 and their last win in a World Cup was against Saudi Arabia in 2002. They round off the group.

GROUP H

Tougher than you think. Portugal group winners, but only just. As another of the GOAT’s last world cup approaches, Portugal have the talent to support him, but this is not the team that won the 2016 Euros. You would not be at fault for asking why Fernando Santos is still in charge. Still on pedigree alone, you’d give them the edge over-

Ghana. This one is a bit personal. I have never forgotten the injustice of 2010. I want nothing more than for Ghana to right that wrong and defeat Uruguay in their last group game and send them packing. And the Black Stars have the players to do it. Young and energetic throughout the core of this team. They have what it takes to put together another strong run and ‘shock’ a few teams.

Uruguay has a brilliant team, no doubt about it. But there is weakness in their defensive options. Either through older players who have run their race or younger ones who simply do not inspire solidity at the back and are better on the ball and going forward. Such is the way of modern football, yes, but good luck with that in this group.

South Korea almost seems like a bit of an afterthought, but very far from it. Son Heung Min or not, in recent history they are organized and tough to play against. They also have a bit of a history of ‘giant killing’ in World Cups- think 2002 and Germany in 2018. But in a group like this, they will have to settle for fourth.

KNOCKOUT STAGES

TOP HALF OF THE DRAW

No real shockers here. Netherlands beat the USA. Argentina beat Denmark, Germany beat Canada and Brazil hold off Ghana. The results may seem straightforward but the games will be anything but.

This means QF 1 as Netherlands v Argentina. Monster game, extremely difficult to call, but overall I would take the Dutch in terms of squad and coaching. QF 2 -Germany and Brazil in a repeat of the 2002 final, will see the same winners- Brazil.

This leaves a Netherlands- Brazil SF. A tasty affair that will end in heartbreak for one of the favorites. One might give Brazil the edge but coaching will play a vital role, especially in a semi final and if you are choosing between Tite and Van Gaal, you would be unwise to bet against Van Gaal and the confidence he has in his squad. Netherlands through to the final for me.

BOTTOM HALF OF THE DRAW

Again, the odds here are pretty safe, except for one. England pip Senegal, France defeat Mexico, Portugal find a way against Serbia. However, Belgium- Spain will be very tricky, but in the end, the Belgians should prevail.

QF 3 will then see England v France. An entertaining spectacle no doubt, but France will defeat an England side that will fall short once again and need a new coach at the end of this tournament. QF 4 Belgium v Portugal has the potential for fireworks, but unlike 2018, Belgium will not be able to cross into the semis and Portugal will just about squeak through.

So, we have a France- Portugal SF and like the Euro 2016 final, France may be the favorites, but they will narrowly lose to an emboldened Portuguese side, through to its first ever final.

FINAL

For the first time since 2010, the final will involve two teams who have never before won the World Cup: Netherlands and Portugal. But where they failed in 2010, the Dutch will succeed in 2022. Van Gaal will mastermind one final masterpiece before calling it a day and the Netherlands will lift the trophy. For Portugal, it is a step too far and for Ronaldo, the promised trophy will be so close to his grasp but he will be unable to get his hands on it and thus fail to acquire perhaps the largest feather in his cap that would weigh in favor of him being the GOAT.

But of course, games are played on the pitch, not on predictors. It will take a herculean effort to win the first- and perhaps, only- World Cup to be held in November-December and in the Middle East for that matter. Good luck to all the participants and may we be entertained!

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