DOHA, Qatar — The FIFA World Cup is here and the four-year wait is finally over (eight years if you’re a U.S. men’s national team fan).
This tournament feels more wide open than most past editions, with reigning champion France among the favorites, but far from the dominant pick you would expect due to the variety of injuries that have hit Les Bleus (including most recently, the loss of Real Madrid star Karim Benzema to injury).
The betting favorite is Brazil, led by Neymar and a stacked squad from top to bottom, though it feels like the team the most neutrals will be pulling for is Argentina, with Lionel Messi making his finally attempt at winning the only trophy he doesn’t have on his resume.
Who will take home the top prize, along with the various individual awards? Here are my picks for the 2022 World Cup:
World Cup Award Predictions
Golden Boot – Kylian Mbappe. No Giroud means an even greater responsibility falling to Benzema, but don’t ignore sneaky long-shot Lautaro Martinez.
Golden Ball – Lionel Messi. He may not finish with the most goals, but Messi is a lock to be involved in the most goals.
Young Player Award – Eduardo Camavinga. The Real Madrid midfielder may be down a bit after injuring Christopher Nkunku in training, but Camavinga is a special talent who could shine, though teammate Aurelien Tchouameni could wind up being the breakout star.
Goalkeeper of the Tournament – Thibaut Courtois. The big Belgian will be key to his team’s hopes of making a deep run.
Tournament Best XI – Thibaut Courtois, Nicolas Tagliafico, Cristian Romero, Thiago Silva, Benjamin Pavard, Kevin DeBruyne, Youri Tielemans, Neymar, Lionel Messi, Lautaro Martinez, Kylian Mbappe.
Round of 16 Qualifiers
Group A – Netherlands, Ecuador. Senegal would have been the pick here, but with Sadio Mane out, the South Americans get the edge. That is unless you believe the rumors of a fix paving the way for Qatar.
Group B – England, USA. The winner of the USA-Wales opener should go through, and we’ll give the nod to the young and talented Americans.
Group C – Argentina, Poland. The good news for Mexico is they won’t lose in the Round of 16 finally. The bad news is they won’t make it that far.
Group D – France, Denmark. There may be no group with a bigger gap between the top and bottom two.
Group E – Spain, Germany. Japan is a talented and underrated team in this group, but the task of trying to knock off these European giants is too great.
Group F – Belgium, Croatia. Canada is going to impress people this tournament, but knocking off Croatia for second place in the group may be just out of reach.
Group G – Brazil, Serbia. Could Cameroon crash this party and deny Serbia? Don’t bet on it.
Group H – Portugal, Uruguay. South Korea is going to make things interesting, and could definitely edge out Uruguay for second place, but nobody’s denying the Portuguese.
Round of 16 Predictions
Netherlands over USA. The Dutch will be heavily favored, as they should be, but do not rule out a USMNT upset. If the Americans make the knockout rounds, their young squad just might be riding a wave of confidence that allows them to pull off the shocker of this round. It’s a tall order though against a very talented Oranje squad.
Argentina over Denmark. The Danes are a sentimental pick because of Christian Eriksen, but Argentina is a team of destiny and will roll in a lopsided affair.
France over Poland. Robert Lewandowski will try to will the Poles to an upset, and should find a goal, but the French attack is too much for Poland’s defense to handle, with Antoine Griezmann leading the way in this one.
England over Ecuador. England always finds a cushy path to the later rounds, and Ecuador would by a physical opponent, but one lacking the firepower to keep up with the Three Lions.
Spain over Croatia. Luka Modric leading the Croats to a win over the Spanish would make for a nice storyline, but look for Spain’s youth movement to propel them to a win against the 2018 finalists in what should be a tasty battle of classy midfields.
Brazil over Uruguay. Emotions will be running high in this one, and while Uruguay does have the talent to make things interesting, Brazil will cruise.
Belgium over Germany. The best match of the round, between two teams both capable of making deep World Cup runs. Germany has some intriguing youngsters who could break out, such as Jamal Musiala, but we’ll give the Belgians the edge, with Romelu Lukaku bagging a brace.
Portugal over Serbia. The Serbians are a very talented and underrated team, and an upset here is entirely possible, but Cristiano Ronaldo and Rafael Leao will be too much for Serbia’s defense to deal with.
Brazil over Spain. This could be the most attractive match of the tournament, as both teams look to attack. Neymar is the difference here, as he dances through the Spanish defense on the way to victory.
Argentina over Netherlands. Louis Van Gaal is smart enough to find a way to slow down Messi, but this is a match for Argentina’s supporting cast to step up, and Angel DiMaria plays the hero against the Dutch.
France over England. Kylian Mbappe and Ousmane Dembele have a field day against an English defense that can’t cope with their speed, while the French defense stifles Harry Kane.
Belgium over Portugal. Cristiano Ronaldo won’t go quietly, and should find a goal, but the Belgians ride Kevin DeBruyne’s playmaking to victory in what should be a very close match.
Argentina over Brazil. The South American rivals meet yet again, and while Brazil could definitely exact some revenge for their Copa America final defeat a year ago in Rio, it is Messi who delivers his best match of the tournament to beat old friend and PSG teammate Neymar.
France over Belgium. The Belgians have the firepower to make things difficult for the French, but it is the Belgian defense that gets exposed by Kylian Mbappe and Olivier Giroud in an epic semifinal.
World Cup Final Prediction
Argentina over France. The French ride their younger squad back to the final, but they cannot stop Messi’s march to his career-capping World Cup triumph. Lautaro Martinez delivers the winner, set up by Messi of course, and the legend puts the last touch on his legacy.