Spoiler alert: Brazil are winning the World Cup. Argentina are well-fancied too, but only one F365-er is backing England for glory. The silly sod…
The general consensus here is that Brazil will get that sixth star; Lionel Messi will take home the Golden Ball; Karim Benzema will fill his boots; and England will suffer a familiar fate….
Right, who will win the whole damned thing?
Sarah Winterburn: My son keeps asking me this question (without the ‘damned’, he’s eight) and I keep saying Brazil so sticking with that.
Matt Stead (filed at 1am on his wedding day): Brazil
Dave Tickner: Argentina, because they haven’t lost a game in about 300 years and if this accursed tournament is going to achieve anything at all then ending the dreary run of European winners is going to be it.
Ian King: Brarzgentinal. If I have to pick one between the two I’ll go for Brazil, because the Messi narrative just all seems a bit too convenient and because Brazil’s range of attacking options is, frankly, frightening.
Ian Watson: England. Why not? Aside from a ropey defence and a conservative midfield and an attack playing beneath its potential…
Will Ford: Argentina.This will be the Lionel Messi World Cup.
Joe Williams: I keep going back and forth but I’ve eventually settled on Brazil.
John Nicholson: Qatar. There’s nothing money can’t buy in football.
Lewis Oldham: Brazil. They have some bloody good players. It’s also 20 years on from their win in 2002, it’s meant to be.
Jason Soutar: Argentina – it is time for Lionel Messi to become the undisputed GOAT.
Name the four semi-finalists too. Yes, that means actually working it out…
SW: Brazil, Argentina, France, Uruguay.
MS: Argentina v Brazil in a nice, quiet, low-key, respectful semi. Then Denmark v Croatia in an England major tournament semi-final narrative special.
DT: A hurriedly-completed knockout bracket simulation has come up with Argentina, Brazil, France and… Uruguay. I’m as surprised as anyone else by that, and if I’d just plucked four semi-finalists off the top of my head there definitely wouldn’t have been three South Americans in there. But instead I put literally 45 seconds of effort into it, and you simply can’t argue with the results of that kind of labour.
IK: Brazil, Argentina, Spain and Croatia (if I’ve worked it out right).
IW: England, Argentina, Brazil, Spain
WF: Argentina, Brazil, England, Spain.
JW: France v Uruguay; Argentina v Brazil
JN: As all other teams are put in jail or deported for publicly embracing other men, Qatar saves the day by fielding four teams. Qatar first team, Qatar Reserves, Qatar U-23s and Qatar U-18s.
LO: Brazil, Netherlands, France, and Belgium.
JS: Switzerland, France, Brazil, Argentina. I backed Denmark to reach the Euros semis and feel like a similar side will do the same here.
How will England fare?
SW: Like I presume everybody else, I am going to predict quarter-final exit to France.
MS: They top their group with two wins and a draw against Michael Sheen’s Wales, before beating Senegal with relative ease and falling to a revenge-fuelled Denmark. Christian Eriksen will do a wink.
DT: Uncomfortably fraught group-stage qualification, 1-0 last-16 win over Senegal (Kane pen, 52), bravely but in truth convincingly beaten by France in the quarters.
IK: I can see how this all goes wrong for England in the group stages, especially if they find a way to not beat Iran in their first match. If they fail to win that one, we could be on for a repeat of 2014 and see them getting knocked out in the group stages. If they win it, then the quarter-finals at least.
IW: I genuinely think they can win it. In the absence of a stand-out favourite, it could all come together for Gareth and his glory boys.
WF: They’ll lose to Argentina on penalties in the final.
JW: Three Lions to ease through the group stage and overcome a tough Senegal in the second round before being knocked out in the quarter-finals to France. No shame in that.
JN: Put in jail for three years after being seen hugging each other on the pitch.
LO: Quarter-final. Gareth’s boys will sneak past Senegal but will predictably fall short against a quality France side.
JS: Quarter-final exit to France.
Who will be the biggest nation to flunk at the group stage?
SW: One of Germany or Spain won’t get out of Group E. Plumping for Spain.
MS: No huge names but the knockouts won’t feel right without Switzerland there.
DT: I’ve got Spain missing out to Germany and Japan in Group E but also Portugal bottom of a gloriously mercurial Group H (see Uruguay, above) and Cristiano Ronaldo huffing off into international retirement with another of his trademark tantrums. This will all be tremendous fun but will sadly afford Piers Morgan another stab at relevance via an exclusive eight-hour interview on TalkTV at the end of which both men remain sadly no closer to attaining even the tiniest imaginable quantity of self-awareness.
IW: It will take quite the f*** up for any of the big boys to fall at the first hurdle since there’s no obvious group of death. Portugal’s pool is a toughie, though and let’s face it, it’d be hilarious to see Ronaldo on the earliest plane going anywhere but Manchester.
WF: Portugal, as Ronaldo misses a key penalty, hopefully.
JW: Belgium. Kevin De Bruyne may be in brilliant form but there are too many doubts about their defence. Knocked out in the second round.
JN: Netherlands after being beaten by Qatar. When Louis van Gaal suggests the game was fixed, he is flogged and put in jail for 69 years.
LO: Germany. They are not the team they once were and Group E is a toughie. Japan will pull off a shock to go through with Spain.
JS: Spain or Germany, with Japan making it out of that group. I’ll say Spain…
Your dark horse, please…
SW: Serbia. Because I think so many people have said Denmark that they’re getting lighter every day.
MS: Really not sure Denmark technically qualify as a dark horse but yeah.
DT: Do Uruguay count from earlier? I reckon they probably count. They’re 50/1. It’s not like I’m saying Belgium.
IK: Wales. Winning it feels like a bit of a stretch, but if they can get past the group stages I wouldn’t put it past them to make the quarter-finals or perhaps even the semis
IW: Given the low expectation, England might qualify here. Uruguay can win their group and be a dangerous quarter-final opponent for Germany, Spain or Belgium.
WF: I like the look of Uruguay, who still have most of what was a very good old guard mixed with some young talent.
JW: Uruguay. Federico Valverde and Rodrigo Bentancur look like a solid partnership in the midfield, while they have Luis Suarez and Darwin Nunez to cause chaos at the top end of the pitch. Should go far…
JN: Also Qatar. There’s nothing money can’t buy in football.
LO: Denmark. They will follow on from their Euro 2020 success to end Lionel Messi’s World Cup dream. Beating the Netherlands in the quarter-finals is doable as well.
JS: Switzerland. Granit Xhaka Golden Ball incoming.
Which player will bag the Golden Boot? Harry Kane again?
SW: Nope. This is Neymar’s tournament.
DT: Kane will get precisely four goals, but three of them will be softly-awarded penalties and thus embarrassingly fraudulent. I’m saying Lautaro Martinez here because I do think it could well be an Argentina player but I don’t want to be so basic as to say Lionel Messi. Especially as I can guess the next question here and I’m definitely going to be that basic for that one. But I reckon Argentina get to the semi-final at least, which means maximum possible games and, compared to the other major teams, I reckon they’ve got the group stage that has the best chance of some fella or other just scoring four in one game or something.
IK: I’ll hedge my bets and say Messi.
IW: Aye, Kane again. Even if he is knackered.
WF: Yep, Kane.
JW: Harry Kane again…
JN: Hassan Al-Haydos. Qatar. His 38 goals, all from penalties, shock the world.
LO: Benzema. In only his second World cup, the Ballon d’Or winner’s goals will help his side reach another final.
JS: The Ballon d’Or winner and the greatest striker of the last 15 years… Karim Benzema
Who takes the Golden Ball? The Player of the Tournament award won by Luka Modric four years ago…
SW: A slightly sentimental award to Lionel Messi
MS: Gabriel Jesus. I’m assuming it’s done by Twitter vote and you know what Arsenal fans are like.
DT: Lionel Messi is unavoidably the dull but surely correct answer if Argentina do anything like as well as they ought to. The GOAT, final World Cup, much less of a prick than Ronaldo, etc. etc. etc. The reasons are many and compelling.
IW: Feels like Messi’s name is already etched on this one, almost irrespective of how Argentina do.
WF: Lionel Messi.
JW: Raphinha has given Brazil that attacking unpredictability over the last year or so and he’ll show his true worth in Qatar.
JN: The whole Qatar squad, on order of the Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy.
LO: Vinicius Junior. Has shone in big games for Real Madrid and he’ll outdo Neymar in Qatar.
JS: Being serious, it probably won’t be Xhaka. I’ll back Lionel Messi for this one.
Which young player will become a massive bloody star in Qatar?
SW: Is 22 still young? It is to me. I think Vinicius Jnr will actually be quietly better than Neymar.
MS: Dunno. Group H feels ripe for star-making youngster breakthroughs. Someone from Ghana or Portugal.
DT: Takefusa Kubo’s virtuoso match-winning display to send Spain crashing out of the tournament in the final round of Group E matches will be absolutely dripping in narrative and launch a thousand longreads about his record-breaking time at La Masia, his failure to break through at Real Madrid and all those assorted loans around the far-flung outposts of La Liga before his permanent move to Sociedad.
IK: The stage is set for Jude Bellingham to take that great leap forward and intensify tedious talk of him moving to Real Madrid/Barcelona/Manchester United/Liverpool/etc etc etc.
IW: Phil Foden, please.
WF: Germany will be a bit rubbish but Jamal Musiala will dig them out of holes for a while.
JW: Jamal Musiala will continue his swift rise to stardom after playing more regularly for Bayern Munich this season.
JN: Qatar goalkeeper Saad Al Sheeb, 32, who the Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy insists is just 16 in infidel years and declare they will flog and jail anyone who suggests this isn’t true.
LO: Xavi Simons. A couple of star-making performances will inevitably put him into the conversation for a major post-World Cup transfer.
JS: Perhaps Xavi Simons or Kenneth Taylor if they get a decent amount minutes. I do like the look of Pedro Hincapie for Ecuador but don’t think they’ll get out of their group so my final answer is… Noah Okafor for Switzerland.
Now tell me which Gareth Southgate ‘mistake’ will be held over him forever.
SW: Harry Maguire, who will have four excellent games but will be exposed by France and that will forever be Gareth Southgate’s silly old fault.
MS: Either playing or not playing James Maddison.
DT: Picking Harry Maguire and/or not picking James Maddison amid tortured hoots about general style of play and what was in hindsight a deeply foolish decision not to select a squad as good as France’s.
IK: Not having announced before the start of the tournament that he’d step down afterwards. It really does feel as though the knives are sharpened for him already.
IW: If England don’t win it, his loyalty to his most-trusted players will be questioned for the rest of time. Harry Maguire will almost certainly be the massive face of any Three Lions failure, regardless of how he performs.
WF: Obviously not selecting Ivan Toney, as Callum Wilson misses the key penalty in the final.
JW: Starting Harry Maguire and not taking Fikayo Tomori or some other centre-back, despite them being unproven at international level.
JN: Taking England to play in The Evil World Cup in Qatar.
LO: Not playing James Maddison enough. Even though that oh-so-mediocre defence will be their actual undoing.
JS: Playing Eric Dier or Harry Maguire in a back-four, or both in a back-five.