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World Cup 2022: Our writers predict who will win in Qatar, who are the dark horses and how far England and Wales will go

Goalkeeper Hugo Lloris of France and his team mates celebrate victory in the 2018 World Cup final. Image: Shutterstock.
Goalkeeper Hugo Lloris of France and his team mates celebrate victory in the 2018 World Cup final. Image: Shutterstock.

The 2022 World Cup is almost upon us.

There has been plenty written and said about the decision to host a winter tournament in Qatar but it all kicks off when the host nation take on Ecuador on Sunday.

The bookmakers have made Brazil the pre-tournament favourites but who do our writers expect to come out on top when the final takes place on December 18?

Paul Chalk

Winners: Argentina – There is a real buzz about Argentina for a reason.

Lionel Messi is the main man and star of their show, but by all accounts, they are defensively sound too.

They have not been defeated for more than 30 matches and, if they handle the heat of expectancy, they have a golden chance.

Dark horse: Senegal – The African Cup of Nations winners have suffered a major blow on the eve of the finals with star forward Sadio Mane ruled out of the competition due to undergoing knee surgery following an injury sustained when playing for Bayern Munich.

Can they go deep in the tournament without him?

Well, I’ll remain hopeful because in Group A, they face Netherlands, hosts Qatar and Ecuador and I see at least two wins from those matches.

After that, confidence and talent combine to open up possibilities.

Player to watch: No player will make me switch on the TV more than magical Messi.

His last dance might well include him – finally – walking away with the World Cup for Argentina.

How will England and Wales do? Relegated from their Nations League section thanks to losses against Hungary and Italy will dampen any hopes for England.

However, they were only a penalty shoot-out away from winning the last Euros (against Italy) and will expect to reach the quarter-finals.

Beyond that, they should fall short. History shows that.

It is Wales’ first appearance at the World Cup in 64 years and their progression could well hinge on their opening fixture against the USA on November 21.

Getting a win there and seeing off Iran four days later will see them through. Anything else would be a bonus for Gareth Bale and Co.

Ryan Cryle

Winners: Argentina should skoosh their group with Mexico, Poland and the Saudis, given the wealth of talent at their disposal – including recently-established defensive steel.

With so much positivity around them in recent times, I can’t see past them.

Dark horse: Qatar will surprise a lot of people.

They’ve been building towards this one tournament for more than a decade (with vast resources), have won Asia’s equivalent of the Euros along the way (no mean feat), and a lot of their key men have also been in training camp for months while other sides’ personnel have been busy with club football.

Player to watch: At the risk of being an incredible bore – Lionel Messi.

This is realistically the greatest player of all time’s final chance to add the missing World Cup to his remarkable list of honours.

By all accounts, Messi, now 35, has been at his near-best for PSG this term.

This, plus the quality of the Argentina team around him, means it is all set up to be his World Cup – the moment where he scales the highest international peak.

Argentina’s Lionel Messi. Image: Shutterstock

His club career has been unprecedented, but the pressure he has always seemed to feel in the blue and white of Argentina, and which he only recently got the better of – with their 2021 Copa America win – could be as stifling as the Qatar heat.

Every touch will be under the microscope. Can the little genius handle it?

How will England and Wales do? England could fail to reach the knock-outs, but will likely exit at the last-16 stage.

I’m backing Wales, with their track record at the Euros in recent years, to go one better than their groupmates and find their way to the quarter-finals.

Jamie Durent

Winners: Argentina – This would appear to be the most well-balanced Argentina team in years.

The usual chaos around them is absent this time and in Cristian Romero, Nicolas Otamendi and Lisandro Martinez, have tenacious centre-backs who will bleed for the cause.

The big question will be who replaces the injured Giovani Lo Celso in midfield, with his importance for country belying the negligible impact he had at Tottenham.

Oh and there is also the narrative of Lionel Messi finally winning the big one in his final tournament. It would be fitting, wouldn’t it?

Dark horse: Canada – They are riding the crest of a wave just now.

Back on the biggest stage for just the second time, this Canadian outfit has the credentials to cause upsets.

Alphonso Davies in action for Canada. Image: Canadian Press/Shutterstock (12979337s)
Alphonso Davies in action for Canada. Image: Canadian Press/Shutterstock (12979337s)

Bayern Munich’s Alphonso Davies plays further forward for Canada than he does for his club and with Jonathan David and Tajon Buchanan also in attacking areas, the speed they have at their disposal is frightening.

In all likelihood, they will have to overcome one of Croatia or Belgium to get out of the groups but given the latter’s aging defence – manager Roberto Martinez looks set to stick with his favoured back three – this match-up could be ripe for Canada to announce their arrival to the World in a big way.

Player to watch: Pedri – A staggering talent at 19, he has already established himself for Barcelona and Spain as their orchestrator-in-chief.

He impressed at the Euros last year and given Spain’s ridiculous lineage of midfield talent, he could be the next maestro to inspire a deep tournament run.

How will England and Wales do? I’ve set my expectations at the quarter-final stage for my home nation.

The forward options can threaten anyone and England have a good tournament record under Gareth Southgate, but I fear the cautious approach may count against them and I don’t like the fitness risks that have been taken.

Kyle Walker and Kalvin Phillips come into the World Cup off injuries and will likely be expected to play some part, while Harry Maguire is a Southgate favourite but a fringe player at club level.

Kieran Trippier is in superb form so don’t be surprised if England rely on his set-piece prowess.

England's Kyle Walker (left) and Kieran Trippier during a training session at the Al Wakrah Sports Club Stadium. Image: Martin Rickett/PA
England’s Kyle Walker (left) and Kieran Trippier during a training session at the Al Wakrah Sports Club Stadium. Image: Martin Rickett/PA

Wales upset the odds at Euro 2016 and 2020 to reach the knockout stages.

They have an internal spirit which I don’t see in many other teams and in Gareth Bale and Aaron Ramsey, have players who deliver big moments time and again for their country.

I’ve tipped a youthful USA side to get out of the group alongside England, so much could ride on that opening clash with Gregg Berhalter’s men for the Welsh.

Sophie Goodwin

Winners: Argentina – I’m voting with my heart here because I’d love to see Lionel Messi lift the trophy in what will probably be his last appearance at a World Cup.

Dark horse: USA – I reckon they’ll get out of Group B alongside England and wouldn’t be surprised to see them pick up a result against Gareth Southgate’s men.

They have an abundance of talent in the squad with the likes of Weston McKennie, Christian Pulisic, Gio Reyna and Yunus Musah, and their current squad has been dubbed a ‘golden generation’ for the USA.

Player to watch: I’m going for home-ties with my choice as my pick is Australia’s Harry Souttar.

Souttar started his football career at Brechin City Youths and is still a season-ticket holder at Brechin which happens to be my hometown.

Australia’s Harry Souttar. Image: Shutterstock.

It’s some journey from Brechin to playing on football’s biggest stage, especially considering Souttar’s recent injury woes.

I’m not expecting Australia to go particularly far in the tournament, but I will be rooting for a local lad to do well.

How will England and Wales do? I do expect England to get out their group but I don’t think it’ll be an easy task with the USA and Wales in there too.

I’m a Newcastle fan – and also half-English – so I’d like to see the three Toon players do well and go as far in the tournament as possible, but I think the quarter-finals will be where England fall.

If I didn’t think of the USA as a dark horse then I would of backed Wales to progress out of the group, but I don’t believe they have the same quality talent and depth that the States have.

Callum Law

Winners: Brazil – This World Cup has crept up on me and although Argentina seem to be the pick of many I’ve looked elsewhere for the winner.

Brazil have plenty of attacking firepower and also a decent mixture of experience and youth in midfield and defence.

Although Argentina have been on a great run I have a feeling they could implode somewhere along the line and Lionel Messi won’t get that World Cup win on his CV.

France would be my second choice to win as tournament winners, Belgium have the talent but seem to be nearly men when it comes to tournaments.

Other European heavyweights like Germany and Spain are developing sides but may not have enough to go all the way.

Dark horse: Denmark – Understated and underrated. Although they don’t have an abundance of big stars the Danes are a very effective team.

Four years ago they were defeated on penalties by Croatia in the last-16 before losing to England in controversial circumstances in the semi-final of last year’s European Championships.

I’d expect Denmark to finish second behind France in Group D setting up a likely meeting with Argentina and it would be no surprise to see the Scandinavians knock out the heavily-fancied South Americans.

Player to watch: Kevin De Bruyne. It’s not exactly a left-field choice but the Manchester City midfielder is in superb form and on his day is arguably the best player in the world.

How will England and Wales do? England will surely get out of the group, but in the knockout stages I expect Gareth Southgate’s side to crumble and exit in the quarter-finals.

In Russia four years ago and in last year’s Euros the draw opened up for England but when they faced top notch opposition they fell short, here they could meet France in the last eight and I can’t see them winning an encounter like that.

Southgate has improved England and comes across as a nice man, but at the top level he’s out of his depth.

Once his time in charge of England is over will any of the Premier League’s top clubs or any of Europe’s biggest sides be queuing up to appoint him?

No would be my answer.

As for Wales their opening game against the USA is key to their hopes, if they win I’d expect them to get out of the group.

Were Rob Page’s side to progress to the last 16 they would have a chance against any of the sides from Group A, but the quarter-final is likely to be their glass ceiling.

Danny Law

Lionel Messi has confirmed this will be his last World Cup. Image: PA.

Winners: Argentina. It would be fitting if Lionel Messi can lead his country to glory in his last shot at winning’s football’s greatest prize.

They head into the tournament unbeaten in 36 matches and should make it through a group containing Saudi Arabia, Mexico and Poland with minimal fuss.

Dark horse: Senegal would have been my surprise package before the injury to their talisman Sadio Mane who will now miss out on the tournament.

Denmark have the ability to impress. They are in Group D with holders France – a team they have already defeated twice in 2022.

Player to watch: Gavi (Spain). The 18-year-old Barcelona midfielder could star in Qatar.

How will England and Wales do? I fancy England to make it to at least the last four.

Wales could struggle to make it out of their group – a win in their opening games against USA is crucial.

Andy Skinner

Winners: Brazil. After a spell of European domination, I am convinced the World Cup will be heading back to South America this time.

Although Argentina have a lot going for them, with the added factor of trying to deliver the ultimate prize for Lionel Messi, I cannot look past Brazil.

The firepower in their side is incredible, and after a couple of very bruising exits in the most recent tournaments I fancy them to get their hands back on the trophy for the first time since 2002.

Dark horse: Mexico. Given they are ranked 13th in the world it is maybe a push to call them a dark horse, but I think this could be the tournament where they truly announce themselves as one of the world heavyweights – in a similar vein to how Croatia have in recent years.

Mexico’s Hirving Lozano, celebrates scoring agains Germany at the 2018 World Cup in Russia. Image: AP

Aside from Argentina they have a pretty favourable group which I firmly expect them to qualify from.

Beyond that, I reckon they will spring a surprise or two in the knock-out stages.

Player to watch: Lautaro Martinez (Argentina). The Inter forward has a very impressive strike rate for his country, with 21 goals in 40 caps.

Having narrowly missed out on selection at Russia in 2018, he will be eager to impress on this stage when so many eyes will already be fixed on his side.

How will England and Wales do? After reaching the latter stages of their last two major tournaments, England will feel they have built up the experience required to have another shot at this one – but I think the quarter-finals will be as far as it goes.

As Scots, we tend to look favourably upon the Nations League given the way it has helped us in recent years.

The approach may have been different for the English but whichever way they wish to dress it up, failing to win any of six matches against opponents of an equal standing does not suggest they are in a great place ahead of this tournament.

Wales have excelled at their last two tournaments, and they have shown in the past they are capable of pulling out a stellar result when it’s needed.

I wouldn’t rule that out against England or USA in the group stage, but my gut feeling is that this may just be one tournament too far.

Paul Third

Winners: France – The football romantic in me would love for Lionel Messi to get his hands on the World Cup in what will likely be his final appearance in the tournament but I just can’t see it.

France loom large in a potential quarter-final and for me they’ll have too much for the South Americans, and likely every other country taking part.

Dark horse:  – Uruguay. A decent group draw which they have a shot at winning and with it a fighting chance of making the semi-finals. From there anything’s possible.

Kylian Mbappe will be a key player for France. Image: Shutterstock.

Player to watch: Kylian Mbappe. Hardly an unknown quantity but it’s remarkable to think the French striker is still only 23.

A player who seems primed to dominate the tournament.

How will England and Wales do? For Wales, they will do well to get out of their group as I fancy both England and the United States to go through.

As for the Auld Enemy, I can see a Dutch-sized obstacle ending their interest in the quarter-final.

Sean Wallace

Winners: Argentina – This is a combination of my head and my heart talking.

My heart wants Lionel Messi to lift the World Cup to cement his legacy as the greatest player ever.

It is the only thing missing from the Ballon d’Or winner’s CV.

Messi was a World Cup runner-up in 2014, losing 1-0 to Germany in the final.

He has rediscovered form at Paris Saint-Germain this season and at 35-years-old this will probably be Messi’s last World Cup.

My head also says Argentina as they go into the World Cup on the back of a 36-game unbeaten run.

Argentina won the Copa America last year, their first major trophy in 28 years.

This Argentina team know how to get a tournament win over the line.

Dark horse: Japan. Despite being drawn in a nightmare group alongside former World Cup winners Germany and Spain I’m tipping Japan to do well.

Japan’s brand of fast, fluid attacking football excited me in the 2018 World Cup and I expect more of the same.

They will progress to the knock-out stages at the expense of either Spain or Germany – which one, who knows?

Player to watch: Vinícius Júnior (Brazil). If you’re looking for thrills and excitement the Real Madrid star is one to deliver.

Vinícius Júnior has lightning pace to go with his sublime technical ability.

He also has the mentality to excel on the biggest football stage of all.

The 22-year-old winger is a big game player having scored the winner in Real Madrid’s Champions League final defeat of Liverpool this summer.

How will England and Wales do? Despite their horrific form in the Nations League recently England have too much talent and major tournament smarts to crash out at the group stage.

But there will be no repeat of 1966 and football will not ‘be coming home’.

It will be a quarter-final slot at best for Gareth Southgate’s side.

I would love Wales to progress to the knock-out stages but I think England and the USA will be too strong.

I do anticipate a real battle when Wales face England and that could end in a draw.