World Cup predictions 2022: Winners, underdogs, top goal scorers … – Sporting News

With the 2022 FIFA World Cup nearly upon us, plenty of people are wondering what will go down in Qatar over the next month.
Here at The Sporting News have attempted to answer some of the most pressing questions, with our football experts giving their predictions for the latest FIFA tournament. 
Our truly global team works in a variety of regions, including the USA, UK, Australia, Spain and Japan.  
From winners and flops, to goalscorers and stars, we’ve come together to offer some World Cup insights. Some may come as a surprise.
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Messi winning the big one in his last World Cup is a great story, but Argentina is actually a great team and with a supporting cast finally worthy of their superstar captain. They’ll enter the World Cup unbeaten in 35 and it’s no coincidence. They have a deep squad with difference makers who play with swagger and unity for one common goal: Win one for Messi. It only helps they have a favourable road to the final.
After mostly under-performing in recent editions of the World Cup, I think Tite’s team is ready to win their sixth trophy in Qatar. Not only do they have elite attackers as usual, but also some of the world’s best defenders and defensive midfielders.
It makes me exceedingly nervous to invest in a team featuring Neymar. In 2014, his Brazil was destroyed 7-1 at home in the World Cup semifinals. In 2018, his Brazil was eliminated in the quarterfinals – and had to rally to lose, 2-1. Make no mistake, for all the incredible attacking talent, the team still flows through him. But there’s so much talent. The names on the defence aren’t necessarily inspiring – but, damn, they only allowed five goals in 17 CONMEBOL World Cup qualifying games. It has been 20 years since we had Brazil as a champion. This is Neymar’s chance to place himself in his country’s World Cup history with Ronaldo, Romario and Pele. What an opportunity. 
Although the team has not competed regularly against the top tier European candidates, the Finalissima vs. Italy showed the players (and the staff) are prepared. Like never before, there’s a team ready to support Messi and not depend completely on him. And then there’s him, the greatest player in the world along with a group maybe hungrier than all the other 31 squads.
They have world-class talent like Dusan Vlahovic and Sergej Milinkovic-Savic. And Sergej’s brother, Vanja, has made several outstanding saves for Torino this season. In Serbia’s most recent match against Norway, they kept a clean sheet against Erling Haaland. I believe they are very strong team when everything comes together.
With Lionel Messi having already decided this is to be his last World Cup, the stage is set for the most fitting of swan songs. La Albiceleste are on a mammoth unbeaten run, which could see them break Italy’s world record 37 games in a row in Qatar. The stars are aligned for the GOAT to go out on top with the biggest trophy of them all. 
I know picking the favourite is boring, but this team is head and shoulders above the rest. The deepest and most talented team in the world is also quite healthy, which at this point is just unfair. Every other team in the field has weaknesses, but this team has none. You could make a Best XI of players who don’t make the Brazil squad and it would still do well in this tournament.
There’s no question that Sadio Mane & Co. can get out of Group A and then can give anyone a hard time in the knockouts. They’re defensively sound as they showed during qualifying and AFCON, and in Mane they have a player who can decide a match. 
They’re flying a little bit under the radar this time, but they have as much offensive prowess as any team on the tournament. They might lack a superstar forward (Memphis Depay is the closest to that) to win it all, but under Louis van Gaal they have proved to be able to compete face to face (and in many cases, beat) the best teams in the world for the last couple of years.
Many USMNT fans were scandalised by the 2-0 pasting their squad took in a September pre-World Cup friendly, in part because Japan lacked the history to suggest they could be this good. Japan has not gotten past the round of 16 in any previous World Cup. And they only finished second in their World Cup qualifying group, behind Saudi Arabia. How good can they be, really? Just watch. I see Japan squeezing through a difficult field into the knockout rounds, and then possibly pulling off a round of 16 upset.
After failing to qualify for the 2018 tournament, the USMNT arrives at a peak in form; maybe not right now but considering the last couple of years. The draw was somehow benevolent and there is a real chance for them to reach the round of 16.
If Serbia do manage to win the World Cup it would be one of the biggest surprises in tournament history. They are flying under the radar but have the quality to cause a number of upsets. 
There seems to be mixed opinion among USMNT fans as to how much promise this World Cup holds, but I am firmly in the camp that this as the dawn of a new adventure. Few squads have as much up-and-coming potential, and this feels like it could be a breakthrough tournament for the likes of Aaronson, McKennie, Dest and Reyna. I think the US will go deep into the knockouts. 
While all the attention from North America will be on how the U.S. and Mexico do, the Canadians will have the best tournament. They’ve been handed a very difficult group, but that won’t deter John Herdman and his squad. The Canada head man is destined for a Premier League job, but not before guiding Canada to a few upset results. Herdman is a master man manager, talking recently about how he wants his team to play with fear, admitting to the larger than life feel of the event. He will have his players ready.
It’s hard to see them getting healthy and finding their groove in time to do damage in a group including Poland, Argentina, and a dangerous Saudi Arabia side. El Tri’s scoring woes don’t have an obvious solution. The knockouts were a given for decades, but not this time.
Everybody is expecting them to at least get to the semifinals, with Kylian Mbappé and Karim Benzema as an absolutely devastating duo, but I have a bad feeling about them. Losing N’Golo Kanté will be a huge blow, even with Aurélien Tchouaméni ready to take his place.
No team that won the previous tournament has emerged from group play since Brazil 2006, and even that extraordinarily gifted bunch made a disappointing exit in the quarterfinals. Why it’s a become a burden to carry the trophy into the subsequent tournament is difficult to say. Maybe it’s simply a matter of the team changing from cycle to cycle. But Italy still was plenty talented in 2010, and Spain in 2014, and Germany in 2018. France has some of the best young talent in the world, but the midfield engine of Paul Pogba and N’Golo Kante – the two most important players in France’s championship run – will be absent due to injury. There are gifted replacements, but France could follow the trend of early departures.
The defending World champions had a terrible Nations League campaign in which they won one out of six games and avoided relegation by a single point. They will manage to advance to the round of 16, but will not have it easy and might face Argentina there. Poland or Mexico will also pose them in trouble.
Brazil is seen as a real favourite this year, so if they cannot win it, it would be a big disappointment. Expectations are just too high for them. 
The stats don’t lie: defending champions don’t do well at World Cups. Germany’s group-stage exit in Russia – they finished rock-bottom of Group F – was the latest in a long line of belated hangovers for former winners. France’s struggles throughout 2022 and injuries to big players like Paul Pogba suggest the same could be on the cards for them. 
It’s astonishing to me how highly thought of this team is still. Both starting midfielders, Paul Pogba and N’Golo Kante, are out injured, with a host of other fitness issues to work around. Kylian Mbappe has proven he’s wanting the spotlight all to himself, and sharing the attacking load with Karim Benzema will be a task. They have a soft group, but I don’t see Les Bleus exiting the quarterfinals.
Ronaldo’s form is far from great in the last couple of months for Manchester United, but I expect Portugal to advance late in the tournament, scoring a high number of goals. And if that’s the case, it’s very likely that Ronaldo ends up with five or six of them.
It’s tempting to say Erling Haaland even though Norway did not qualify for Qatar 2022. There’s no one in the world slamming in goals so regularly. But if Haaland didn’t have an absurd 18 goals in the books for Manchester City, wouldn’t we be marveling at Kane’s also-ridiculous 11 in just 14 games? That’s a 30-goal pace for a full season. Only a dozen players have hit that mark in 30 prior seasons. And Kane has been a big-tournament player, winning the Golden Boot at the 2018 World Cup (six goals) and falling one short (with four goals) at Euro 2020.
England has everything to advance at least to the quarterfinals without big opposition, and Kane will take advantage of this. Even if the team cannot succeed much more than that, there is a chance they play seven games and their main scorer will be ready to deliver.
With Milinkovic-Savic providing world-class service, Vlahovic could score a bag of goals and is already averaging a goal every two games with Serbia. 
All the talk around Brazil is about Neymar, but the smart money could be on his Selecao teammate Vinicius Jr. Four goals in six UEFA Champions League games this season shows he’s in fine form, and with Group G looking likely to yield plenty of goals, he could go flying into the knockouts as the man to catch. 
While Brazil has a loaded attacking unit, nobody fills the spotlight quite like Neymar. If he can stay healthy — admittedly a bit “if” — Neymar will reign supreme and lead Brazil to the title. He’s in incredible form at PSG, and that should carry over nicely.
If you think Argentina will win the tournament, then Lionel Messi should win the Golden Ball as the Albiceleste’s best player. He’s rounding into form just in time for the World Cup and he’s finally found his comfort zone with his national team. Whether it’s a goal, a pass, or a masterful free kick, he’ll pick his moments to make a difference. 
The Golden Ball has not been awarded to one of the champions since Romario in 1994. I expect that trend to end in Qatar, with Real Madrid’s youngster winning it over Neymar and other strong candidates. 
Indeed, Neymar will dominate the action for Brazil, but if this is the team that becomes your champion, then the best player will need to play his best. Vini Jr. has 10 goals in all competitions for Real Madrid this autumn. In June, he scored the only goal in a 1-0 victory over Liverpool in the Champions League final, and there might have been only one other player on the planet – France’s Kylian Mbappe – with the speed and skill to pull off that transition strike. He scored only one goal in World Cup qualifying for a team loaded with attacking options. But they’re not winning this tournament unless this 22-year-old is out front, literally and figuratively.
Yes, we said Argentina will not rely exclusively on Messi, but the brightest star is still the brightest star. And Argentina getting its third World Cup title just sounds like doing it, with Messi in turn winning not only his most desired trophy, but also a treasured individual award for a second time.
The 27-year-old has been wreaking havoc at club level this season for Lazio and will be the player to shine if Serbia do make a deep run at the World Cup. 
Picture the scene: World Cup trophy in one hand, Golden Ball in the other. And the debate as to who is the greatest player of all time settled definitively, in favour of Leo Messi. 
Can you imagine if Argentina and Brazil face off in the final? The top scorer usually finishes with a good shout towards winning the Golden Ball, especially if Brazil finish on top, but in what is admittedly Messi’s final World Cup, the voters won’t be able to resist handing him this coveted award. “The flea” continually grabs at the heartstrings of fans, and if he can carry Argentina to at least the semifinals, he should be rewarded with this individual honor, even if he fails to secure the overall crown.


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