World Cup Predictions

Ben Cunningham ‘23

For the first time, the World Cup won’t be played in its traditional summer window. It will be played in November and December, with the opening game now taking place on November 20th, which will see the host nation Qatar taking on Ecuador in Group A. This is my rundown of each group stage, and  the dark horses likely to cause a lot of shock at this edition of the world cup


Group A






Group A contains a fascinating bunch of teams, including the hosts, Qatar. Qatar is probably the weakest team and, in my opinion, will finish last in the group. That being said, there are two players in Qatar to watch out for, both of whom shined at the 2021 CONCACAF Gold Cup.  Akram Afif, LW, 25 and Almoez Ali, ST, 25. If Qatar is going to make any noise at their home tournament, Ali and Afif will have to be instrumental in the team. 3rd in Group A is Ecuador; however, Ecuador is a sneaky good team with many young talents, such as Moises Caicedo of Brighton and Piero Hincapie of Bayer Leverkusen. Ecuador finished 4th in the CONMEBOL world cup, qualifying on 26 points. Don’t be surprised if LAFC’s midfielder Jose Cifuentes, a creative outlet, shines for Ecuador. The only concern is who will be scoring the goals for La Tri. Michael Estrada led the team with 6 goals during qualifying. Whether or not the 26 year old keep up his production will be the key for Ecuador. In second place is the Lions of Senegal. The reigning AFCON champs are looking in form and looking to ride the momentum of Sadio Mane. Mane, who had a stellar career at Liverpool, made his move to German giants FC Bayern Munchen. However, the Lions of Teranga are one of the most balanced teams. And with the Chelsea pair of goalkeeper Edouard Mendy and center back Kalidou Koulibaly, the back line of Senegal is looking mighty. Even in the midfield with Idrissa Gueye and Boubakary Soumare, Senegal looks to make history for the nation in West Africa. We also can’t forget about Ismaila Sarr, who has proven to be an effective goal scorer for club and country. Finally, topping this group is the Netherlands. The Oranje, led by Louis Van Gaal, is looking to make a deep run in the world cup after a shocking Euro exit to the Czech Republic, which saw star center-back Matthijs De Ligt sent off due to a handball. Down to 10 men, the Dutch were dispatched by the Czechs, led by young star Patrick Schick. This time the Oranje are looking to recapture the glory of the teams of Cruyff and Bergkamp. The defense for the Dutch is solid with the center-back pairing of De Ligt and Van Dijk, along with talented young wing-backs Tyrell Malacia and Denzel Dumfries. In the midfield, Van Gaal has a lot of options. He has the talented Frankie De Jong, whose transfer saga with Barcelona is important news. He also has the disposal of De Jong’s former teammate Donny Van De Beek, who is expected to get more game time under new Manchester United manager Erik Ten Hag. Gini Wijnaldum, on loan at Roma, has proven to be a solid deep-lying playmaker for the Dutch. In attack, at the number nine position, he has two solid options in Wout Weghorst, who is on loan at Turkish club Besiktas, and Memphis Depay of Barcelona. On the wings, be prepared for the speed of PSV winger Cody Gakpo and don’t forget that new Ajax winger Steven Bergwijn is also a threat on the wings. The key for the Dutch is finishing opportunities and getting Memphis Depay going, who seems on the outs in Barcelona after the new signing of Robert Lewandowski. 


Group B






Group B contains teams that have a history with each other on and off the pitch. The last place in this group for me is Wales. Wales can’t rely on the aging talent of Gareth Bale and Aaron Ramsey, and in all honesty, Ukraine was far superior in the playoffs. In 3rd place is Iran. For Iran to have a chance in this group, they need to rely on the stellar play of Mehdi Taremi, the winger of Porto in Portugal. Taremi scored 20 goals last year for Porto finishing second behind Darwin Nunez, who recently transferred from Benfica to Liverpool. Iran finished top of their group in Asian qualifiers, only conceding four goals. Another player to watch out for is Sardar Azmoun, 27, of the German club Bayer Leverkusen who scored 10 of Iran’s 15 goals in qualifying. Those two need to be producing for Iran to have a chance of making it to the knockouts. Now in second place is none other than our good old US. Finally back after failing to beat Trinidad and Tobago 4 years ago, the US is looking to make some noise. With the young talent and firm confidence, the US is looking to upset England for the top spot in the group. Watch out for stars like Yunus Musah, Brendan Aaronson, Weston McKennie, and of course, Captain America himself. The two major concerns for the US are who will be the number nine and who will replace Miles Robinson as Walker Zimmerman’s center-back partner. Aaron Long of the New York Red Bulls and Chris Richards of Crystal Palace are solid options to replace Miles Robinson. Aaron Long gives you that experience, while Chris Richards gives Berhalter the ability to play a high line with his pace. The main concern is who is going to be scoring the goals. I think that Jesus Ferreira is the best option for the US. Not only does he have pace and skill, but as he has shown in MLS, he can score. He has scored 12 goals for FC Dallas as he looks to push them toward a playoff spot. Finally, in this group, we have the Three Lions of England. England has many young talented stars led by prolific goal scorer Harry Kane of Tottenham Hotspur. Kane is surrounded by quality wingers such as Jadon Sancho, Raheem Sterling, Bukayo Saka, and Marcus Rashford. The midfield is just as scary. They contain two of the game’s youngest playmakers in Manchester City’s Phil Foden, often referred to as the Stockport Messi, and Chelsea’s Mason Mount. Also in this midfield is Foden’s Manchester City teammate Jack Grealish. These three each have the skill to get out of tight spaces and dribble past defenders, and they also have the knack for playing the ball that breaks the opponents’ back line. The back line contains Trent Alexander Arnold, who has come to define the modern full-back. It also includes the typical pair of Harry Maguire and John Stones at center back. I would like to see Fiyako Tomori of AC Milan get more playing time with the England squad because, unlike Maguire and Stones, Tomori has the speed to keep up in a foot race. England, with their depth, is a clear contender to win the World Cup. However, there is one thing that will bring the Three Lions down. His name is Gareth Southgate. He has proven to be somewhat tactically inept despite leading England to the semis of the 2018 world cup and runners-up in Euro 2020. Southgate plays more defensively-minded formations for a squad with such attacking prowess. In summary, the only thing that will bring down England in the fall is themselves, as we’ve seen before.


Group C


Saudi Arabia




Group C contains World Cup contenders Argentina, led by Lionel Messi, and CONCACAF giants Mexico, led by Raul Jimenez. Then, of course, is Poland who is captained by prolific goal scorer Robert Lewandowski of FC Barcelona. Saudi Arabia is back in the World Cup; however, they face a difficult group and are the easy candidates for last place. In third place in this group for me is El Tri. The Mexicans who have been the staple of CONCACAF football have come into Qatar out of form. Despite still qualifying for the world cup, the Mexicans come in only having scored 17 goals. In addition, Mexico is losing its status as the dominant team in CONCACAF after El Tri lost both the Nations League Final and the CONCACAF Gold Cup to rivals USA. As the Mexicans look to advance to that Quinto Partido, it won’t help that their attack will be missing dynamic Sevilla winger Jesus “Tecatito” Corona, who is set to miss the World Cup due to a fractured fibula which will require surgery. In second place is Poland, who is led by the dynamic attack of savvy veterans such as Arkadiusz Milik and prolific goal scorer Robert Lewandowski who has 12 goals and 2 assists so far in 10 games with FC Barcelona. In midfield, keep an eye out for Napoli midfielder Piotr Zielinski who has controlled the strings, including a star-studded 6-1 domination of AFC Ajax in the Champions League. Holding the back line for Poland is reliable Juventus goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny and Aston Villa right-back Matty Cash. In first place is World Cup favorites Argentina. With this being Messi’s last world cup, La Abliceleste is going to want to win this one. Led by Lionel Messi, the South American giants are looking to dazzle in this group. But this time, Messi has a good surrounding cast which includes Lautauro Martinez of Inter Milan and Angel Di Maria of Juventus. Argentina’s midfield and attacks will push them through, but don’t forget Emiliano Martinez, a solid goalkeeper for Aston Villa. La Abliceleste are heading into the World Cup on a 35-game unbeaten run under head coach Lionel Scaloni, two behind Italy’s record. They came in second in CONMEBOL World Cup qualifying behind Brazil. However, the Argentinians are one of the most dangerous teams in the World Cup and should be considered favorites in the World Cup.


Group D






This group is one of the most clear-cut and obvious to predict. The last place is evident to me: Australia. Australia doesn’t possess the key individual talent to get out of this group, and with Denmark and France both looking very good, it will be a long World Cup for the Aussies. In third place, slightly above the Aussies, are the Eagles of Carthage. Tunisia, led by Hannibal Mejbri, Manchester United’s young midfielder on loan at Birmingham, is a skillful young player. In their qualifying run, Tunisia topped their group, scoring 11 and conceding only 2. The Eagles secured their return to the World Cup with a tight one-nil win over Mali. If Tunisia wants to advance to the knockout stage, Hannibal Mejbri has to play well, and the team as a collective has to defend. In second place is Denmark. In the fairy tale story of Euro 2020, the Danes are looking to show the world they are no fluke. The Danes have been ranked #10 in Fifa’s latest rankings. Denmark is a side led by some truly savvy veterans in midfielders Christian Eriksen and Thomas Delaney. Eriksen provides that deep playmaking and attacking ability, while Delaney is a physical defensive midfielder with a great work rate. We must also appreciate the importance of Kasper Schmeichel, who, despite a move to Nice, is still at the top of his game, and captain Simon Kjaer who is a wall at the back of the Danish defense joined by Andreas Christensen. Speaking of playmakers, Tottenham’s midfielder Pierre-Emile Hojberg provides playmaking and technical ability like Eriksen but also gives you that defensive work rate. While this Danish team may be old, players like Daniel Wass, Mikkel Damsgaard, and Kasper Dolberg are all young players who bring technical ability and youth. Just watch Damsgaard’s free-kick against England in the Euro Semi-final. Absolute underrated baller.

In first place are the defending world champs, France, no shocker there. France is once again placed as one of the favorites in this world cup. However, there is tension in the team. With minor injuries piling up for Les Blues and Paul Pogba and Boubacar Kamara both set to miss the World Cup with long-term injuries, the depth of the Didier Deschamps squad will be tested. Watch out for marquee players such as Kylian Mbappe, who has the pace and the skill, and Karim Benzema, who has been red hot for Real Madrid and should be in line for a Ballon D’or win. With Pogba gone, questions around the midfield remain. However, watch for young ballers Eduardo Camavinga and Aurelien Tchouameni, both of Real Madrid, who have proven that they are the next dominant midfield of Los Blancos. They have great technical and passing abilities. Then there is Christopher Nkunku, for RB Leipzig, who seems to be heading for a move to London giants Chelsea. Nkunku has proven to be a clinical attacking midfielder who can score goals. He also has the physical ability to hold off defenders and turn provider. Last year he finished with 20 goals and 6 assists, and won the award for the Bundesliga’s best player of the year. With all this attacking talent, the French defense is pretty good itself. Unfortunately, Chelsea CDM N’golo Kante will miss the world cup. Deschamps will probably roll with a back four with Raphael Varane and Presnel Kimpempbe. However, other shout outs at center back include Jules Kounde and William Saliba, both of whom have been in great form for their clubs. Also, Liverpool defender Ibrahima Konate is coming back from injury, and questions still remain about his talent with the FFF. Overall, the only thing that will hurt France, especially at the 2010 World Cup where they are favorites, is themselves and the toxic environment being leaked by the French media. 


Group E




Costa Rica


In my opinion, this group should be very interesting and competitive. Last place for me is Costa Rica. As much as I would love to jump on the CONCACAF bandwagon, I can’t. Costa Rica lacks both midfield and attacking talent, and the only chance they have is if Kelyor Navas plays like an absolute brick wall in the net. However, the chances of that may be slim because Navas has been pushed out of the number one spot for PSG by Gianluigi Donnarumma. In third place for me is Japan. Don’t be shocked if Japan were to cause an upset in this group. Japan finished second behind Saudi Arabia in Asian qualifying, conceding only four goals. Some of their key players include Daichi Kamada, who was instrumental in helping Eintracht Frankfurt win the Europa League last year. Another player to watch out for is Takumi Minamino, the new AS Monaco signing. Despite this slow start to his new club, Minamino has shown in Liverpool’s recent cup runs that he can score goals and has the attacking flair. Japan is also looking to ride the hot start of Real Sociedad midfielder Takefusa Kubo who has two goals and two assists in 8 matches for the Basque outfit. If Japan wants to shock the world like they almost did at the last World Cup, nearly knocking out Belgium, they will have to ride the performances of these three young guns. Next up is La Roja. Despite recent lousy form coming into this in previous world cups, Spain is looking revitalized. They are led by two young Barca midfielders, Pedri and Gavi, who look to be the reincarnation of Xavi and Iniesta. These guys are absolute ballers. They can take out your defense with a ball in behind, dribble past you like prime Ronaldinho, and occasionally hit a shot from far out. Joining these players in midfield are Atletico’s Koke and PSG’s Carlos Soler, both of whom, in my opinion, are very reliable in a CDM/deep-lying playmaker role. What’s important for Spain is that they have rejuvenized their backline with younger players. For example, in a switch of nationality, Aymeric Laporte is now representing his grandparents’ native country of Spain. Meanwhile, the emergence of Eric Garcia of Barcelona and Pau Torres of Villareal is a real boost to the ever-aging defense of Spain. Despite all of this for Luis Enrique, the questions from Spanish and Global media come about the attack. Can either Gerard Moreno or Alvaro Morata be the answer for a goalscorer that Spain has been crying out for. Don’t forget Spain has two of the youngest and fastest players at this World Cup, Ansu Fati and Adama Traore. The thing is, during his stints, Adama Traore lacked the final quality, unlike Ansu. Spain will only go as far as their attack provides the goals. Finally, Die Mannschaft, is also experiencing a resurgence after their horrendous exit at the 2018 world cup at the hands of South Korea.


Group F






This group is one of the most tightly contested groups in the bracket. Belgium are obviously the favorites with Romelu Lukaku and Kevin De Bruyne. Still, they have to contend with 2018 runner-ups Croatia who will experience a last dance with Captain Luka Modric. However, the Atlas Lions and the Maple Leafs look to pull an upset led by their two most famous left-backs, Alphonso Davies and Achref Hakimi. The last place for me is Morocco, simply because they lack the firepower. With no Hakim Ziyech and others, Hakimi will have to lead the line. Morocco beat the Democratic Republic of Congo to get to the world cup; however, they solely relied on two goal scorers to carry them through, Ayoub El Kaabi and Ryan Mmaee of Hungarian side Ferencvaros. In third place is Croatia. I know; how could I put the runners-up from 2018 in third place? The reason is that the Croatian squad is simply aging, and I feel that the pace of Canada and Belgium could cause some problems for the aging squad. While making this pick, I realize that the only hope for Croatia is if Luka Modric reverts to his Ballon D’or performances. Canada is second for me because of their youthful talent and their success. They managed to finish above CONCACAF giants USA and Mexico and finished first in qualifying, qualifying for their first world cup since 1986. They have a youthful mix of talent. Jonathan David, the 22 yr old of Lille, has scored 9 goals and provided 3 assists for Les Douges. Then of course there is Alphonso Davies, the speedy left-back for Bayern Munich who has avoided serious injuries and is set to go for the World Cup. A solid defender and very much an attacking player, Davies is the x-factor for Canada. Even younger than both of them is Tajon Buchanan of Club Brugge, who recently made his move to Belgium after tearing up the MLS with the New England Revolution and was someone who shined in the most recent edition of the Gold Cup and World Cup qualifiers. He is a skillful winger who has the chance to shine once again on the world stage. Canada’s midfield and defense are pretty solid, so if they can find the back of the net and contain the likes of Modric and Lukaku, the Maple Leafs should be set for a pretty solid return to the world stage. First is Belgium. Of course they should be favorited with the likes of Kevin De Bruyne and Romelu Lukaku both of whom have proven to be a deadly combo at the national level, even then De Bruyne has hit fine form once again for Man City and Lukau has gotten back to his goal scoring ways after returning to Inter on loan from Chelsea. In the back, Belgium should be OK with Yashin winner Thibaut Courtois in goal. In the middle of the park and up front, outside of De Bruyne and Lukaku, they are talented and deep. Youri Tielemans, who seems to be the man for scoring long-range bangers, is holding down Leicester’s topsy-turvy season so far. Leandro Trossard, who has been in form for De Zerbi’s Brighton, should be a player to look out for. In addition, Charles De Ketelaere and Jeremy Doku provide excellent pacy options out on the wings for Roberto Martinez. With a talented squad, Belgium has high expectations for this Golden generation, and the question is: can they deliver on all the talent they’ve had? 


Group G






Group G is another one of those groups where the race to finish behind the group leaders will be interesting. Brazil is not only a group favorite but a favorite to win the whole thing. So the race to finish behind them will be tightly contested. The last place for me is Cameroon, but barely. Cameroon’s talent is evident by the red-hot form of Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting, who, in the previous fourteen games for Bayern Munich in all comps, has 10 goals and 3 assists. He and captain Vincent Aboubakar will be the goal-scoring threats for Cameroon. Carl Toko Ekambi, who has been on form for Omplyique Lyon, is also a viable goal-scoring option which plays a similar play style to Choupo- Moting and Aboubakar. Be on the watch for Cameroon. In third place is Switzerland. Switzerland is made up of many players who have rejuvenated their careers. Granit Xhaka of Arsenal has reimbursed himself with Arsenal fans because of his goal-scoring form. In addition, Yann Sommer has also been in the best form of his life. Yann Sommer single-handedly knocked France out of the Euros. Xherdan Shaqiri, however, has yet to be able to make it to MLS after his big-money move. Meanwhile, Breel Embolo has also been on form for AS Monaco with 7 goals and 2 assists. Denis Zakaria has been unable to get a game during his spell at Chelsea on loan. However, he is a solid defensive midfielder. And Remo Freuler is another solid option in the midfield for the Swiss, who can play the ball and another solid defensive midfielder who can link the play together. Overall the Swiss are a very deep and good team. The one thing they are missing is that key man, that x-factor that can take the game over. Nextly, we have Serbia in second place. Serbia is, in fact, one of my dark horses in the World Cup. Serbia with Dusan Vlahovic and Aleksandar Mitrovic, who provide a dynamic attack force. Mitrovic has exceeded expectations with 9 goals so far in the Premier League campaign. Vlahovic has carried Juventus through their abysmal start to Serie A, with 6 goals and one assist. Serbia is definitely one of my dark horses for this World Cup. You can’t forget about Sergej Malinkovic Savic, a solid midfielder option, and remember wingers Dusan Tadic and Luka Jovic, both of whom provide width and goal-scoring threat. In first place in this group is obviously La Selecao, who are definitely one of the world cup favorites and with their now 26 man squad listed they provide one of the most flashy teams in the world cup. The attack has a bunch of A-List names in the form of Gabriel Martinelli, his teammate Gabriel Jesus, Antony of Manchester United, Neymar Jr, Richarlison, Vinicius Junior, and the list goes on. Brazil’s quality in attack should provide defenses with a lot of problems with pace on the wing with Antony and Vini Jr. The only question in the attack is if Jesus and Richarlison can provide the goal-scoring as the true no 9’s on the team. Jesus, despite his hot start with Arsenal, has very much cooled off and is in goal-scoring drought. Meanwhile, Richarlison has barely seen a sufficient amount of game time under Conte’s Spurs. Brazil is anchored by three defensive mids who provide protection. Casemiro and Fabinho, despite aging, still have the power and drive as some of the best CDMs in the world. Meanwhile, Fred at Manchester United has experienced a form of rejuvenation under Erik Ten Hag, and he continues to perform wearing Brazilian colors. Providing the runs from the midfield into the box will be Lucas Paqueta and Bruno Guimaraes. Both have playmaking and skillful ability, with Paqueta having the ability to double as a winger. The defense of Brazil is the only question for Tite’s side. Can the aging Tiago Silva and Marquinhos anchor down the back line? And, of course, we all know Tite will not care about his goalkeeping situation, considering they have two of the best in the world in Alisson and Ederson. The Selecao are once again favored, but can they handle it? 


Group H




South Korea


Regarding the last group of the bunch, it may be the tightest group out of them all. This group provides the rematch of the infamous knockout stage game in 2010 between Ghana and Uruguay where Luis Suarez used his hands to save Uruguay from a Ghanaian goal-scoring opportunity, he was then sent off and Ghana was given a penalty. Asamoah Gyan stepped up for Ghana and he skied the ball over the crossbar, Uruguay went on to win on penalties. That being said, the other focus here is on Ronaldo who has barely played for Manchester United with constant rumors about his potential exit from the club. All eyes are on him as he hopes to take Portugal to a World Cup victory. Focusing on positions, the last place for me is South Korea. I think that Uruguay is the better overall team than South Korea and I think that despite their form in the 2018 world cup they will be heading out early. If South Korea does find itself in the knockouts it will be because of Son Heung-Min of Spurs and Hwang Hee-Chan of Wolves. While Hwang provides the typical goal-scoring threat, Son can provide the unique pace, skill, and technicality to drive at defenders. The hopes of a nation lay on Son. Up next, just ahead of South Korea should be Uruguay. Uruguay has three of the best strikers. Suarez and Cavani, despite aging, are still both aggressive poachers who can still tally up goals. While Darwin Nunez is more pacey and lengthy he still provides the physicality. Despite his slow start with Liverpool, I believe that Darwin Nunez in this Uruguay setup has a chance to justify his transfer fee from Benfica. Meanwhile, the midfield is held down by playmakers Rodrigo Betancur and Federico Valverde, both of whom have experienced a rejuvenation of their careers and have turned into some of the most underrated players in the world. In 18 games with Real Madrid this season, Valverde has 8 goals and 4 assists, for the midfielder has quietly gone under the radar this season. In addition, two other players who have been producing and quietly improving are the Araujo’s. One of which is a defender for Barca, the other is a midfielder for Orlando City. Cesar Araujo was a solid defensive mid for Orlando this year and helped them make the playoffs with his work rate and defensive ability. Meanwhile, Ronald Araujo is coming back from an injury with FC Barcelona, he had a stable preseason and seems to be eyeing the future center-back position for Uruguay. In second place, I have Ghana. I had originally had Ghana in third but the addition of Williams brothers and a whole host of other additions have put the Ghanaians above Uruguay. With a back line held by Tariq Lamptey and Daniel Amartey, the back line for Ghana should be solid. Anchoring the stars in the midfield is Thomas Partey and Mohammad Kudus who both provide defensive cover of the back line while establishing playmaking and creative ability. Certainly, the eye-catcher is the addition of Iňaki Williams from Athletic Bilbao who has proven to be one of the most consistent goal scorers in LaLiga. In 14 games he has 6 goal contributions, subpar for him; however, he is the key for the Black Stars if they want to advance to the knockouts. Finally, we have Portugal. Portugal is looking to ride the greatness that is Cristiano Ronaldo. However this time around he is surrounded by a more balanced team, With Ruben Dias and Joao Cancelo at the back joined by Pepe and Diogo Dalot, this Portuguese backline should be well-equipped to deal with the attacking threats of Uruguay and Ghana. In the midfield, Bruno Fernandes and Bernardo Silva are the creative outlets for this team and Silva has been in form for Manchester City since the start of the season. The midfield is Portugal’s strength; they have a lot of physical defensive midfielders like Neves, and Moutinho. Up top, while they are missing key playmaker Diogo Jota, they have talent who surround Ronaldo up top including Rafael Leao who was named Serie A MVP last season and already has 15 goal contributions in 19 games for Milan. Additionally, they have Joao Felix who despite suffering under Diego Simeone has proven to be a dynamic attacker like Leao, thriving off the wing. Portugal is looking to potentially send Ronaldo off on a high note. 


This World cup in Qatar is unlike any other, and with the USA back, it should be an exciting tournament with lots of upsets. If you need a team to root for, my dark horses for this competition are Denmark, Ecuador, and Serbia, all of which are very underrated and each have the right mix of youth and the experienced to make a shock run in this competition. This competition will be your Christmas present and it will be one to watch, so go, watch and enjoy as the USA and 31 other countries vie for the World’s most prestigious trophy.