Since the World Cup was controversially awarded to Qatar 15 years ago, this tournament has not been one many fans looked forward to for a vast array of reasons. It being held at the end of the year happens to be one of the said reasons. The tournament has disrupted what was a successful season for many clubs, while it might turn out to be a welcome break from domestic issues for others.
The most prestigious tournament in football will kick off on Sunday when hosts Qatar take on Ecuador and end with the final on Sunday, 18th December.
Who Will Win?
It feels as if the winner will be a team that can keep hold of the ball. Temperatures in Qatar, albeit much cooler than in the summer, will still be quite high. To put it subtly, Qatar never has a white Christmas, then again why would they care as Christmas isn’t celebrated there…but I digress.
So, a team that can hold onto the ball brings Brazil, Spain, and Argentina into the reckoning. The three nations are lousy with talented footballers and can out-pass any other at the tournament. Of these three, Spain doesn’t boast as dominant of a team as they did a decade ago, and they do not fill fans with as much confidence as they did when they won the World Cup in 2010.
That’s why the two strongest South American participants are more likely to make a grab for glory.
Argentina just avoided defeat in their 36th consecutive game with a 5-0 win against the UAE and are likely equal Italy’s record of 37 when they play Saudi Arabia in their opening World Cup game on Tuesday.
However, Brazil is the favorite for the tournament, and rightfully so. The Brazilians boast a very strong squad. If it were possible to have an A and B squad at the tournament, both teams would make the quarters. Like Argentina, they qualified without losing a single game from arguably the toughest World Cup qualifying continent, and they topped the group with 45 points from a possible 51 (14 wins and 3 draws – Argentina, Colombia, and Ecuador).
NOTE: Brazil’s home fixture against Argentina was postponed and then later canceled.
During qualification, Brazil scored 40 goals and conceded just five.
It will take a lot to stop the Seleção from taking home their sixth World Cup title, the first one since 2002.
Survey Result: Brazil (33%), Argentina (30%), France (18%), England (9%)
The Golden Boot award is given to the top scorer of the tournament and is expected to be very competitive in Qatar.
In Russia, Harry Kane won the award with six goals. The England striker is likely to want to score even more this time around. As long as England remain in the tournament, Kane will fancy his chances, especially as he takes the penalties which are likely to be aplenty as VAR will be used once again as it was four years prior.
In 2018, the number of penalties had more than doubled with a total of 28 awarded throughout the tournament. That is more than the two previous tournaments combined – 14 in 2010 and 13 in 2014. This time round the number could increase even more, so the likely Golden Boot winner has to be solely responsible for converting the spot-kicks for their nation in Qatar.
That brings into contention players such as Messi (Argentina), Kane (England), Lukaku (Belgium), Mbappe (France), Ronaldo (Portugal), and Morato (Spain), as well as many others. However, it is Brazil’s penalty taker who for me has a great opportunity of writing his name all over the World Cup. It is Neymar who deserves his time at the top after playing second or third-fiddle for so long at his clubs.
Survey Result: Mbappe (21%), Neymar (18%), Benzema and Kane (15%), Messi (12%)
Well, after reading the predictions for the winner and Golden Boot, it won’t shock you that I think Neymar will also win the Golden Ball. The Brazilian superstar has been the poster boy for the national side for almost a decade without a single title. This will be Neymar’s third World Cup and he will be hoping it goes a lot better than the previous two. In 2014, Brazil expected to lift the trophy, but the hosts were left embarrassed as they lost 7-1 in the semi-finals against Germany. Neymar wasn’t able to play after suffering a serious back injury in the quarters which forced him to miss the start of the season. Four years ago, Brazil was eliminated in the quarter-finals by the Netherlands.
There will be plenty of other players looking to take home the trophy won by Luka Modric, none more so than Real Madrid teammate and this year’s Ballon d’Or winner Karim Benzema. The Frenchman will lead the line for the reigning champions who want to become the third nation in history to retain the World Cup after Italy (’34 & ’38) and Brazil (’58 & ’62). Benzema could also become the third player in history to win the Golden Ball and the Ballon d’Or in the same season – Paolo Rossi (1982) and Luka Modric (2018).
Other players with a chance are Benzema’s teammate Kylian M’Bappe, Argentine Lionel Messi, Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo, and Belgium’s Kevin DeBruyne.
Yet, in Qatar, it just feels like it is Neymar’s time to take his place amongst the greats of Brazilian football and lead the strongest squad in the world to glory.
Survey Result: Messi (33%), Neymar (18%), Mbappe (15%)
The award is given to the best keeper, so will likely go to Brazil’s Alisson or Argentina’s Martinez even though I hope Yann Sommer wins it. Alisson or Martinez will likely concede the least number of goals in the tournament, and make it to the last four which will be a huge plus in deciding the Golden Glove winner.
However, my hopeful pick for the Golden Glove is based more on the respect I have for this keeper’s abilities. Switzerland’s Yann Sommer had a phenomenal Euro 2020 as he finished the tournament with an incredible 21 saves over the course of five games, the most by a keeper in the Euros. If Switzerland makes it as far as the quarter-finals, which is a big if, then the experienced keeper may finally be rewarded for his brilliance between the sticks. Especially as the Swiss can only make it that far if Sommer is on top form.
Prediction: Alisson. (Hope Sommer)
Survey Result: Alisson (24%), Lloris and Courtois (12%), Neuer and Pickford (9%)
Team to Surpass Expectations
Qatar is likely to witness a huge surge from a nation no one expected, but it definitely will not be the host. After all, they are only ever going to be in one World Cup and that was because they bought it a decade-and-a-half ago.
So, which nations could spring a shock this time round?
Well, Saudi Arabia could shock everyone by collecting a point in what is one of the toughest groups containing Argentina, Mexico, and Poland. The Mexicans could go further than usual and finally get to a World Cup quarter-final. Since 1994, Mexico has qualified for the finals, got out of the group, and lost in the round of 16. It might be time to break the camel’s back.
However, the true shock can come from a country located around 3800km south of Mexico. Ecuador has only ever made the World Cup finals on three occasions, and made it out of the group once. They have always been one of the so called weaker teams in the finals, but that could potentially change in Qatar.
Ecuador will play the hosts in the opening game of the tournament which will be a good indicator of what is to come. If Ecuador makes it out of the group, a repeat of their only previous second-round match could be on the cards against England. In 2006, the Three Lions beat La Tri 1-0 thanks to a goal from David Beckham.
Survey Results: Denmark (15%), England (9%)
World Cup Flop
Many nations are looking like they may have a tough time in Qatar. Belgium just lost to Egypt in a friendly, Wales can’t handle being out in the heat, and England looks nothing like the team that made a semi-final in the last World Cup and the final at the Euros just a couple of years ago.
However, since the turn of the century, Brazil has been the only reigning World Cup winner to make it out of the groups when they made the quarter-final in 2006. In 2002, France started the trend with their shock exit in the group stages. Italy (2010), Spain (2014), and Germany (2018) all followed suit.
I think you can tell where this is going.
The French team consists of the same players that fell out during Euro 2020 because of the infighting between players and parents. If we go even further back, in 2010, there was turmoil amongst the French squad as the players refused to train after the expulsion of Nicolas Anelka from the team. Anelka, also known as “Le Sulk”, lead to the Great French Sulk.
With conditions expected to be relatively tough in Qatar, a similar scenario could show its ugly face. In that instance, Les Bleus would probably want to get back to familiar lands as soon as humanly possible.
In my eyes, anything less than a semi-final would be a poor showing from the French. Now imagine if they don’t even get out of the group!
Survey Results: France (30%), Germany (15%), Portugal (12%)
Unlikely to Break the Goals Record
As football fans, we like to see plenty of goals. Ultimately, they are the fruits of the game. Since the World Cup finals became a 32-nation tournament in 1998, the two most ‘”fruitful” finals in 1998 and 2014 resulted in a record 171 goals scored. In 2010, when the tournament went to the African continent for the first time, only 145 goals were scored.
Although this tournament is unlikely to go past 160 goals because of the heat and humidity (even with VAR) there will be plenty of high-scoring games and penalty shootouts.
Prediction: 136-160 goals (Brazil to contribute the most goals)