Winners: Brazil

A settled side that is full of technically-brilliant, robust players. What’s not to like?

Runners-up: Spain

Sacking their manager wasn’t ideal preparation, but there’s enough personality and savvy in the dressing room to move past that.

A run to the final would be a fine achievement in the circumstances.

Losing semi-finalists: Uruguay and Germany

See below for my view on Uruguay.

Germany have reached this stage in their last four World Cups. There’s no reason to think they won’t do so again this time around.

Overachievers: Uruguay.

They’re in an easy group and should get a favourable second-round draw. They’ve also got Edinson Cavani and Luis Suarez, which is handy.

Underachievers: Portugal

Their Euro 2016 triumph was remarkable, given their team wasn’t very good.

The bulk of that team remain, including their well-past-their-best centre-back pairing of Bruno Alves and Pepe. And while it’s a danger to dismiss Cristiano Ronaldo, he did look well off the pace in the Champions League final.

England’s fate: Quarter-finals

That’d be lovely.

Golden Boot: Gabriel Jesus

Jesus finished the season in fine form for Manchester City and is an integral member of Tite’s Brazil.

I’m also banking on him having seven games to play.

Player of the tournament: Neymar

A ceremonial award that typically goes to one of the competition’s most famous players, Neymar would be an obvious choice were he to return from injury to lead Brazil to their sixth World Cup.

Breakout star: Ruben Loftus-Cheek

With his superb athleticism and skill, Loftus-Cheek has everything a modern midfielder needs.

Whether it’s at Chelsea or somewhere else, I think he’ll show enough at this tournament to ensure he’ll be playing for an elite club next season.

Bet of the tournament: Brazil to win the World Cup and Gabriel Jesus to be top scorer

This is obvious, given my previous answers.


Winners: Spain

After much deliberation, I’m sticking with my long-held hunch and going for Spain.

Yes, they’re essentially going in without a coach, but they’ve not lost in nearly two years and have infinitely more experience of how to win an international tournament than anybody else – so who’s to say that will stop them?

Runners-up: Brazil

Brazil are the best team in the other half of the draw and come into the tournament in excellent form, winning all four of their matches so far in 2018 to nil.

Losing semi-finalists: France and Germany

A bit Eurocentric, but I’ll go for France and Germany who, according to my wallchart, will have the easiest quarter-finals of the lot.

Overachievers: Croatia

I fancy Croatia to top their group ahead of Argentina, beat a decent Peru team in the last 16 and make Spain sweat in the quarters.


Argentina finishing second would mean a likely last-16 game against France, and a surprisingly early exit for the 2014 runners-up.

England’s fate: Quarter-finals

Finish behind Belgium in the group on goal difference, squeeze past Colombia for a first knockout victory in 12 years, but then run into Germany.

Hardly spectacular, but enough for the tournament to not completely pass us by.

Golden Boot: Isco

Isco was one of four joint-top scorers for Spain in qualifying, and bagged a hat-trick in their best performance since securing their place in Russia.

As one of La Roja’s few attackers guaranteed to start, his price looks too good to ignore.

Player of the tournament: Neymar

Four of the last five winners of this award have been losing finalists, so I’ll back Neymar to continue that little quirk.

Breakout star: Andre Silva

AC Milan signed Andre Silva for €38m last summer, though a return of just 10 this season – and only two in Serie A – mean he’s regarded with suspicion by some.

But nine goals in qualifying would suggest he can be the striker that Portugal have long lacked, and maybe even turn a few heads in the transfer market.

Bet of the tournament: Brazil, France, Spain and Germany all to win their groups and reach the quarter-finals –

My predicted semi-finalists are all 1/2 or shorter to win their group – amounting to a 5/2 quadruple – so this is excellent value for the four favourites for the tournament to all successfully negotiate the last 16.


Winners: Spain

Spain have integrated a new generation of dazzling technicians into what is left of the class of 2010, and I expect the same result as eight years ago.

Those cool heads can still do the business, despite disgruntlement over this week’s managerial bombshell.

Runners-up: Brazil

Assuming that all of Brazil, Germany and Spain win their groups, the former will avoid the other two favourites until the final.

With Neymar, Gabriel Jesus and Philippe Coutinho the best front three in the tournament, they are a great bet to go all the way.

Other semi-finalists: Uruguay and Germany

Uruguay have been gifted a fantastic draw, and may only have to produce one shock result – perhaps against France in the quarter-finals – to reach the last four.

I fully expect Germany to join them.

Overachievers: Peru

A last-four appearance for Uruguay would certainly be an overachievement, but my mapped-out prediction also includes an exciting Peru team beating Argentina in the Round of 16.

Underachievers: Portugal

European champions Portugal could well be knocked out of Group B by Morocco. Their Euro 2016 success was fortuitous, and things could go as wrong this time as they did right two years ago.

England’s fate: Round of 16

I don’t think Gareth Southgate could have done much more to prepare this England team, but preventing The Fear from striking again is some task. Colombia would be difficult last-16 opponents.

And that’s an upgrade on the nagging feeling that an opening-match draw to Tunisia could see the Three Lions knocked out of the group on goal-difference.

Golden Boot: Timo Werner

Isco is a good bet for Spain, but I fancy they may end up sharing their goals around a little too much. By contrast, Timo Werner will be relied upon to be Germany’s chief goal-getter.

Player of the tournament: Andres Iniesta

FIFA love a nostalgia pick, as proven by Zinedine Zidane surviving literally assaulting Marco Materazzi in the 2006 final to win the award.

If Spain perform, Andres Iniesta should mop up the individual acclaim.

Breakout star: Sergej Milinkovic-Savic

I really believe Ruben Loftus-Cheek could do great things for England if given an opportunity, and I’m looking forward to seeing how Mexico’s Hirving Lozano gets on. But I’ll go for Serbia’s Sergej Milinkovic-Savic, who had a sensational season for Lazio.

Bet of the tournament: Brazil, Germany and Spain to make the quarter-finals

Germany and Brazil could meet in the last 16 if either of them slip to second place in their group, but I doubt that’s going to happen. That should leave the path clear for all three to progress to the quarter-finals. 


Winners: Spain

Getting rid of your manager on the eve of the tournament is far from ideal, but my belief in Sergio Ramos is unshakeable, so I’ll plump for Spain.

They’ve have a kind path to the final, assuming they win Group B, and their midfield is so strong that I can’t see them flaming out despite the controversy.

Runners-up: Germany

South American sides don’t tend to do well at World Cups in Europe, so I’ll go for an all-European final.

Germany have brought in some fine young players since winning four years ago, and they look poised to go deep into the tournament again.

Losing semi-finalists: Uruguay and Brazil

I really like the look of Uruguay – more on them in a minute.

Brazil should walk through the group stage, but I wouldn’t back them to beat the top European sides in a tournament on the other side of the world.

Overachievers: Uruguay

Group A is the weakest in the tournament, and it’s not hard to see Uruguay cruising through with nine points and facing a winnable last-16 tie against Portugal or Morocco.

With Edinson Cavani and Luis Suarez up front, they should give any side in the competition a good game, and I fancy them to play – and beat – France in the quarters.

Underachievers: Argentina

Argentina scraped through CONMEBOL qualifying on the final day and are far too reliant on Lionel Messi despite the ridiculous amount of attacking talent in their squad.

I wouldn’t be surprised at all if they crashed out in the last-16 after failing to win Group D.

England’s fate: Round of 16

Tunisia and Panama are rubbish, so England should make it out of Group G.

The Three Lions will fall short of their first knockout win since 2006, though, with Colombia the side likeliest to do the damage this time around.

Golden Boot: Antoine Griezmann

My profile of a Golden Boot winner threw up Griezmann as the top candidate to be the top scorer, so I’m sticking with the Frenchman, although Isco also looks a great outside bet.

Player of the tournament: Neymar

This feels like a crapshoot, but the general consensus seems to be that players from the winning team rarely get this.

Let’s go for Neymar.

Breakout star: Hakim Ziyech

Like most in our office, I’m on the Morocco bandwagon this summer.

Ajax playmaker Ziyech is their most exciting player, and should catch the eye ahead of a move to Roma that’s looking more and more likely.

Bet of the tournament: Isco to be Spain’s top scorer

Whether he plays as a false nine or a No. 10, Isco should be Spain’s most dangerous attacking player.

The Real Madrid playmaker has scored seven in his last eight games for his country, including a hat-trick against Argentina in March.


Winners: Germany

Each of the past five World Cups held in Europe have been won by a side from the home continent.

Germany have a simple path to semi-final and, with a squad at least as good as 2014’s, I expect them to go back to back.

Runners-up: Brazil

It’s hard to see Brazil failing to win a group that contains Switzerland, Costa Rica and Serbia.

Their squad is the most talented at the tournament, but I could see them getting edged out in a reversal of the 2002 final.

Losing semi-finalists: France and Spain

France have either gone out in the group stage or made the semi-final in six of their last seven World Cups. I’m choosing the latter here.

Having gone out at the group stage four years ago and the quarter finals of Euro 2016, I’m stopping short of Spain winning it. Given their chaotic managerial situation, a run to the final four would be impressive.

Overachievers: Morocco

Morocco come into the World Cup on the back of an 18-match unbeaten run and four victories from five warm-up friendlies.

They have an exciting core in Medhi Benatia, Hakim Ziyech and Younes Belhanda, while manager Herve Renard has previously experienced huge success in African football.

Underachievers: Portugal

I expect Morocco’s success to come at the expense of Portugal.

The European Champions managed just one victory in normal time in France two years ago, qualifying from their group in third. They won’t be as lucky this time.

England’s fate: Out in the last 16

While there could be a couple of uncomfortable moments in England’s opening two group games, I fully expect them to take six points and make their final game against Belgium academic.

A meeting with either Colombia or Senegal in the last 16 would be tight, nervy, and ultimately disappointing.

Golden Boot: Neymar

Neymar bagged 28 goals in 36 appearances for club and country this season, including two from two in Brazil’s warm-up friendlies. With Brazil set to go far in Russia, this just makes sense.

Player of the Tournament: Neymar

If he wins the Golden Boot and gets his country to the final, it’s hard to see anyone else claiming this.

Breakout star: Sergej Milinkovic-Savic

I’m a big fan of Morocco’s Ziyech, but I’m going for Milinkovic-Savic of Serbia.

The midfielder scored 14 goals at Lazio last season and a good World Cup could see him move to one of Europe’s big hitters.

Bet of the tournament: Panama to be the lowest scorers

Panama qualified for the tournament with a -1 goal difference, having scored just nine goals in 10 games.

They were outscored by USA and Honduras – both of whom missed out – and are in a group with England and Belgium, who conceded nine goals between them in 20 qualifying matches.

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