With the World Cup getting underway this week, see who is tipped to lift the trophy in Qatar.
Without the traditional build-up that normally comes with a World Cup, it’s difficult to nail down a definite winner.
There are too many unknowns to get behind any team at , so we should ignore favourites Brazil despite their excellent squad.
Instead, second-favourites Argentina look the most appealing.
They are unbeaten in 35 matches and would break Italy’s international unbeaten record, set between 2017-2021, if they avoid defeat in the World Cup group stage.
As part of that run, Lionel Scaloni’s team won the 2021 Copa America, beating Brazil 1-0 in the final.
Lionel Messi, meanwhile, is back to his very best.
The 35-year-old comes into the tournament posting numbers reminiscent of his heyday, with 21 goals in 22 appearances for club and country this season.
But what makes Argentina a serious contender is that for the first time in Messi’s international career, they are a cohesive and well-coached side, capable of more than giving the ball to their talisman and hoping for the best.
They should take nine points from a group that contains Mexico, Poland and Saudi Arabia. Despite a potentially tough route to the final, it’s hard to see anyone getting in their way.
DARK HORSE: SWITZERLAND
Switzerland’s performance in competitive matches over the last few years prove that they deserve some respect.
They come into the World Cup following a Nations League campaign in which they took six points from their four games against Spain and Portugal.
But it’s their recent tournament record that really catches the eye.
The Swiss reached the quarter finals of Euro 2020 last summer, knocking France out on penalties in the round of 16 after a 3-3 draw. They were then a penalty shoot-out defeat away from making the final four after a 1-1 draw with Spain.
And despite the presence of Brazil, their World Cup draw isn’t as tough as it looks.
Group G is 75 per cent a re-run of Group E from the 2018 World Cup – substituting Costa Rica for Cameroon – from which Switzerland took five points and qualified in second.
A second-placed finish this time would set up a round-of-16 game against the winner of Group H, which would likely be Portugal or Uruguay, two beatable sides.
And if they reached the quarter-finals, they would still avoid the three favourites in the outright market, Brazil, Argentina and France. Murat Yakin’s side are perfectly capable of a one-off victory over Spain, Germany or Belgium.
At this price, Switzerland surely represent some of the best value in the market.
Qatar are the second-lowest ranked team in the competition, sitting 50th, one place above Saudi Arabia.
But while they will not win the tournament, that doesn’t mean a group-stage exit is a forgone conclusion.
There has only been one host nation in World Cup history that have failed to make it out of their group: South Africa in 2010.
While much has been made of the fact Qatar are, in football terms, one of the weakest host nations ever, Bafana Bafana came into their home tournament ranked 83rd.
There are clear advantages to hosting a tournament, with a swell of home support and players being able to adapt to the conditions better than others, and that has played out in recent history.
In 2018, Russia made it to the quarter-final and knocked out Spain on the way, Ghana kept African interest alive in 2010 with a run to the quarters and South Korea qualified for the semi-final in 2002.
As top seeds, Qatar have been drawn into Group A alongside Ecuador, Senegal and the Netherlands. While each of those will likely prove difficult opponents, Qatar’s recent tournament experience shows that they can be competitive.
They come into this tournament having won the 2019 Asian Cup, beating Japan 3-1 in the final, while they finished third in the 2021 Arab Cup.
*Odds subject to change.
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