The 2022 World Cup is here and the world's best players and national teams are in Qatar to compete for the biggest prize in international football.
Before the big kick-off, The National's sports desk have made their predictions for the tournament.
Jon Turner, Assistant Sports Editor
Champions: Brazil. Strength in depth in every position and a squad packed with stars, Brazil have been a settled squad in fine form for a couple years now. They cruised through qualifying and have a manager in Tite who has his players all on the same page. Brazil are going to take some stopping.
Surprise package: Uruguay. Should advance from their group, of course, but they could pull a Croatia and reach the final, which would qualify as a surprise of sorts. With two of the most in-form central midfielders in the world – Federico Valverde and Rodrigo Bentancur – plus plenty of firepower, Uruguay have the foundations to go far.
Disappointment: England. Woefully out of form and struggling for goals. Manager Gareth Southgate doesn't appear to know his best system nor his best XI, and there are glaring weaknesses in the side. They have the recent pedigree of going deep in the past two major tournaments but no repeat in Qatar.
Top scorer: Kylian Mbappe (France). Full disclosure: Karim Benzema occupied this particular prediction before the Ballon d'Or winner was ruled out with injury, so in steps his fellow strike partner. World Cup top scorer awards are generally secured in the group stage and Mbappe can fill his boots before the knockouts get under way.
Player of the tournament: Neymar (Brazil). Brazil to win the tournament and their talisman to be the star of the show. Heard it here first.
Dominic Hart, Sports Editor
Champions: Brazil. Predictable, maybe, but they are the team in form, are 15 games unbeaten and boast a seemingly endless number of super-talented forwards.
Surprise package: Morocco. With players like Hakim Ziyech, Romain Saiss and Achraf Hakimi in the squad, the Africans have the skill set to scare the life out of anyone on their day. Admittedly, they are in a tough group with Croatia and Belgium alongside the weaker Canada.
Disappointment: France. Injuries are going to be a big problem for many of the favourites, and the French travelled to Qatar at a disadvantage with Paul Pogba, N'Golo Kante, Presnel Kimpembe and Christopher Nkunku ruled out. Benzema was then added to that list on the eve of the tournament.
Top scorer: Cristiano Ronaldo (Portugal). Never one to shun the spotlight, Ronaldo could be looking for a new home after his Manchester United fall-out. Why not use the biggest stage of all to prove Erik ten Hag wrong, and tempt another suitor? If anyone can, Cristiano's the man.
Player of the tournament: Pedri (Spain)
Gareth Cox, Assistant Sports Editor
Champions: Brazil. A boring choice I'm afraid, but cannot see beyond Tite's side. A ludicrous array of attacking talent; a potent mix in squad of youth, experience, and players at their peak.
Surprise package: Denmark. A good group to qualify from with the Danes up against injury-hit France, Australia and Tunisia. Reliable goalkeeper in Kasper Schmeichel, strong defensively and in midfield, although a prolific goalscorer shy of making an even bigger impact on tournament.
Disappointment: France. Another obvious one simply because of the amount of injuries right through the core of the team – Kimpembe, Kante, Pogba and now also Ballon d'Or winner Benzema.
Top scorer: Lautaro Martinez (Argentina). A regular scorer for club side Inter Milan, and his country, Martinez will also benefit by having an in-form – and hopefully fully fit – Lionel Messi pulling the strings alongside him.
Player of the tournament: Neymar (Brazil). Time for the preening show-pony, prone to outrageous dives but with all the talent in the world, to take a tournament by the scruff of the neck and lead his country to glory.
Paul Radley, Reporter
Champions: Argentina. Some bloke called Messi. Forwards of the calibre of Lautaro Martinez and Julian Alvarez. A rugged defence led by Cristian Romero, nicely rested after pulling the ladder up on Tottenham Hotspur for the past few weeks. Plus masses of neutral support in the Middle East.
Surprise package: Qatar. It will be a surprise to many if the host nation do anything at all on the pitch. Yet, thanks to the canny coaching of Felix Sanchez, their Pep Gaurdiola-lite manager, they are far from the easy-beats they once were – as shown by their 2019 Asian Cup title win. An “ooh, they were better than I thought they’d be” surprise package, rather than a title-contending one.
Disappointment: Belgium. Should have plenty in the tank to make it out of a group involving Canada, Morocco and Croatia. But a side with some of the most gilded stars in the sport of recent times might well have peaked. Likely to fall short of the trophy that befits a squad of such enviable talent.
Top scorer: Neymar (Brazil). Brazil’s group is hardly a cakewalk, with Switzerland, Serbia and Cameroon their obstacles to the second round. The Selecao are flying at the moment, though, and their most glittering star should be able to fill his boots in a side not short of firepower.
Player of the tournament: Lionel Messi (Argentina). Was somewhat contentiously awarded the Golden Ball in 2014 after defeat in the final to Germany in Brazil. He could get the vote again this time around if he leads Argentina to the title.
Stuart James, Sport sub-editor
Champions: Argentina. It’s a close call between them and the other South American giants, Brazil. On paper, the Selecao edge it in terms of their attacking options, but Argentina landed their first Copa America for nearly 30 years last year and are unbeaten in 36 games. I have a sneaking feeling Messi will sign off his major tournament career by lifting the big one.
Surprise package: Denmark. They made it to the last-16 of the World Cup in 2018, losing out to eventual finalists Croatia, then reached the semi-finals of Euro 2020, where they were beaten narrowly by England. With their star player Christian Eriksen back in the side, they could cause an upset and win Group D against a weakened France.
Disappointment: France. Pogba, Kante, Benzema, Kimpembe, Nkuku out; Varane and Kounde struggling with injury. Even with the depth of talent France can call on, that casualty list – plus the pressure of being defending champions – will prove too much for Didier Deschamps’ men.
Top scorer: Harry Kane (England). Experienced England should again make a deep run into the tournament, with the Spurs marksman profiting.
Player of the tournament: Lionel Messi (Argentina). The PSG superstar will confirm his status as the greatest player of the modern era, while his chief rival Cristiano Ronaldo will disappoint for Portugal.
John McAuley, Reporter
Champions: Argentina. Surely their time. Copa America champions, unbeaten in 36 – alas, the UAE last Wednesday – Messi in incredible rude health and a squad that includes Cristian Romero, Lisandro Martinez, Angel Di Maria and Lautaro Martinez. Battle-hardened, coupled with Messi’s resurgent brilliance (even if Giovani Lo Celso is a sorry miss): perfect timing.
Surprise package: Uruguay. The appointment of Diego Alonso inspired, the effervescence of Federico Valverde and new goal-scorer extraordinaire Rodrigo Bentancur, and that front trio of Luis Suarez, Darwin Nunez and Edinson Cavani. Semi-final run seems set ... if Suarez doesn’t munch anyone, obviously.
Disappointment: France. Only because of the injuries, and the fact England seem a little too obvious. Thought initially the reigning champions would go deep, but then Paul Pogba, N'Golo Kante, Presnel Kimpembe and Christopher Nkunku happened. And, on the eve of the whole thing, Karim Benzema. The current Ballon d’Or holder! Crippling.
Top scorer: Neymar (Brazil). Despite the defeat to their great rivals in the semi-final, Brazil’s main man will have sealed the Golden Boot by that point. Been in fantastic form for club, takes penalties for country. Only three away from becoming his country’s all-time leading scorer. Pele slips to second, but still El Rey.
Player of the tournament: Lionel Messi (Argentina). With Argentina victorious, it has to be their captain. If this is to be Messi’s final World Cup, then hopefully he signs off beautifully. Make the most of seeing a true great on the global stage while you can.