There are favorites to win the World Cup, and there are those that will struggle. For the latter, it is an accomplishment just to get to the tournament. This year, that applies to countries like Saudi Arabia, Tunisia or even the hosts, Qatar.
However, these countries are in a position to cause havoc for the stereotypical teams of success. Each year, there is at least one major upset. A minnow takes down a top team in the group to advance. Or, one team is pushed to the brink by a team with nothing to lose.
In 2018, Portugal and Spain almost fell in the group stage after heroic performances from Iran and Morocco, particularly in matchday three. In 2014, Costa Rica finished on seven points and top of the group against Uruguay, Italy and England, with the last two exiting in the group stage.
Then, of course, there is the curse of falling in the group stage the year after winning the tournament. Italy in 2010, Spain followed in 2014, Germany four years after. These teams won the competition, then fell in brutal fashion in the following tournament. Is France up next on the chopping block?
The following World Cup group predictions are almost inherently wrong by nature. However, be sure to share your predictions using the World Soccer Talk World Cup Predictor. You can then see how the knockout stage would look based on your guesses.
World Cup Group Predictions
The Netherlands should emerge on top given its talent despite missing out on 2018. However, second place is not so easily determined. Hosts of a World Cup have a history of success. In fact, a host failed to make it out of the group stage only once. That was South Africa in 2010. Even when two countries hosted in 2002, Japan and South Korea, both qualified for the knockout stage. Qatar is a quietly good team, and it could pull off a result or two.
Ecuador and Senegal both have talented players. Qualifying out of South America and Africa is a feat to behold on its own. However, with so many active players in Europe, including Sadio Mané, Edouard Mendy, Kalidou Koulibaly and Ismaïla Sarr, the talent could be too much.
The American media claim this to be the ‘Group of Death,’ citing the average FIFA World rankings. This may also be the group that is most out of form entering the tournament.
Regardless, England is the clear favorite in the group, as it is among the favorites for the entire tournament. Second place is a toss-up, however. The USMNT and its fans like to think they are the clear-cut candidates to reach the knockout stage. Yet, with Gareth Bale captaining a Wales side that went to the semifinals of the European Championship six years ago, they have surges in form in their history.
Then, Iran was one of those teams to push Portugal and Spain to the brink in the group stage. Could it do the same to England and the United States, or even Wales, in 2022?
Lionel Messi finally got the burden of an international trophy off his back by winning the 2021 Copa America. Now, he enters his final World Cup with perhaps the best Argentina side in his tenure. Argentina barely scraped through the group stages in 2018, and its opponents, Mexico, Poland and Saudi Arabia, are no pushovers.
Mexico reached the knockout stages in each of the last seven tournaments. So, they are a shoe-in based on experience. However, Poland still has one of the best players in the world in Robert Lewandowski. This is likely his last World Cup, and he wants to guide Poland to its first knockout stage since 1986. It adds an extra level of pressure to that opening game between Mexico and Poland.
This is it. Can France end the streak of past champion’s falling in the group stage? This group does not present an overly complex challenge to France. The immeasurable talent and depth at each position won the World Cup in 2018. Many of those players return in 2022, including the addition of Ballon d’Or winner Karim Benzema.
Denmark is a strong side as well. The Danish reached the semifinals of Euro 2020 riding the emotional wave of support in the wake of Christian Eriksen’s on-field collapse. His return to form and play is an inspiration that could carry over.
Tunisia and Australia are not exactly world-beaters, and the talent gap is wide. However, with this group flying under the radar in terms of excitement, it is in perfect shape for a random upset.
Germany and Spain are part of that trend of champions losing in the following year. This year, both look to bounce back from disappointing campaigns at Russia 2018. It puts a target on Costa Rica and Japan, neither of which are bad teams. In fact, Japan and Costa Rica both bullied the USMNT in their last fixtures against the U.S.
However, Germany and Spain are likely too talented for Japan and Costa Rica. That being said, if either Japan beats Germany or Costa Rica beats Spain in that opening game, the group is wide open with Germany and Spain meeting in matchday two.
Of all the World Cup group predictions, this one may be the toughest. Canada, despite its FIFA World Ranking of No. 41 (one place worse than Scotland, one better than Norway), steamrolled through CONCACAF World Cup Qualifying. An emerging star in Alphonso Davies has the talent to be a catalyst for the Canadians.
The only issue is that he and his teammates go up against the teams that finished second and third four years ago. Croatia and Belgium are perennial darkhorses that came so close in Russia. There may be concerns that both side’s window is closing. Yet, that could provide the impetus for success. Also, do not count out Morocco, which has its own star at full back in Achraf Hakimi leading the way.
All the talk in this group surrounds Brazil, as it likely should. Brazil is the favorite to win the World Cup with a squad highlighted by Neymar and Vinícius Junior. However, Serbia is an interesting case.
Serbia topped its UEFA World Cup Qualifying group with a late win at Portugal in the final matchday. That result almost knocked out the Portuguese entirely. Also, Serbia finished atop its UEFA Nations League B Group. Despite the second tier of the competition, that group had Erling Haaland’s Norway, quarterfinalists in 2018 Sweden and Slovenia.
Serbia remains an underdog to Switzerland for that second-place spot, shaping up for what could be a dramatic matchday three fixture in that group.
Where this is Messi’s last World Cup with Argentina, there is less certainty over the future of Cristiano Ronaldo with Portugal. At the age of 37, it is likely to be his last tournament. In 2026, he would be the second-oldest outfield player in World Cup history. Although, few coaches would say no if Cristiano wanted to be on the team.
His Portugal side played Uruguay in 2018, with the latter winning in the round of 16 tie. However, Portugal has recognizable talent across the board, and Uruguay’s lineup on paper is perhaps not as strong.
The rest of Group H is a balanced side to round off the World Cup group predictions. South Korea is also a decent squad, particularly in the form of Son Heung-min. Then, Ghana’s last two trips to the World Cup forced the best out of its opposition. That includes a quarterfinals appearance in 2010.
PHOTO: IMAGO / MIS
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