World Cup predictions: what to expect in Russia

By Palatinate Sport

Who will win the tournament?

Tomas Hill Lopez-Menchero (Sport Editor): Spain. I may be slightly biased but Julen Lopetegui has succeeded in picking La Roja up from the ashes after horror shows in Brazil and France.

They are not the all-conquering golden generation of 2008-12, but the Basque coach has kept those foundations in mind while injecting this side with more bite – think Isco’s guile in midfield combined with Diego Costa’s ruthlessness up front.

If their 6-1 demolition of Argentina in March is anything to go by, Spain will be a force to be reckoned with in Russia.

Will Jennings (Deputy Sport Editor): I’m going to go with France. A really slick outfit that possess strength in depth and an experienced coach in Didier Deschamps. If they make the final, I can’t see them slipping up in the way they did at the Euros two summers ago.

Ella Jerman (Deputy Sport Editor): It’s definitely going to be an exciting battle between the usual suspects: reigning champions Germany, Brazil, France and Spain. With such strength in talent and depth, Löw’s Germany squad will be tough to beat, but I believe that this time around Brazil will be the team to go all the way.

With attacking options such as Neymar, Coutinho and Jesus, the South American giants are set to be a real threat and will be determined to avenge the 2014 Belo Horizonte humiliation and triumph on European soil for the first time in 60 years.

Louis Gibbon (Deputy Sport Editor): With the same manager as four years ago, a stronger squad and a decent path to the final, Germany are my favourites. Expect Mesut Ozil to play a starring role.

Ed Lord (Deputy Sport Editor): I can’t look past Spain for this tournament. They have the perfect blend of experienced winners, such as Sergio Ramos and Gerard Pique, and exciting young talents like Marco Asensio.

Throw into that mix the best goalkeeper in the world in David de Gea and, if the Diego Costa we knew at Chelsea can turn up, I don’t know if anyone will be able to stop Spain.


How far will England go?

THLM: Quarter-finals. For once we have a genuinely exciting and likeable group of players going to the World Cup, led by a manager with a clear tactical vision. Gareth Southgate has done an admirable job in creating such a positive atmosphere ahead of a major tournament, and his side should – though that is the operative word with England – make it out of their group comfortably.

They will face a sterner test in the round of 16, but making it to the quarter-finals is a realistic objective with the talent at Southgate’s disposal. Regardless of what happens this summer, this England side should be celebrated for restoring some positivity to the national team.

WJ: Heart says quarter-finals, head says group stage elimination after uninspiring stalemates against Tunisia and Panama. However, after watching us against Costa Rica I’m going to channel my inner optimist and say the last eight. Southgate has implemented a system that really seems to suit his players, and it’s great to see such a young and hungry group enjoying representing their country so much.

EJ: Every other year we get our hopes up about England’s chances of glory, but this time I think we have reason to be optimistic. We have a world-class goalscorer in Kane spearheading the attack, supported by an array of talented and exciting young players in Sterling, Alli and Rashford.

The nation’s expectations are low heading to Russia, but less pressure could be a good thing.

Perhaps I’m being a typically naïve and hopelessly optimistic England fan here, but if we perform like we have been in the run-up to the competition and our key players step up to the plate when it’s needed, then we have a good shot at reaching the quarter-finals.

LG: Quarter-finals. Southgate appears to have got a lot more right than wrong since taking over. If he gets his selection right and gives Loftus-Cheek and Rashford the minutes they deserve, I predict a dignified exit to Germany in the quarter-finals (potentially on penalties).

EL: I might be falling into the famous trap of every single England fan at every single major tournament in saying that I think England can be successful this year. Completely forgetting all Iceland-related incidents from recent years, we should be comfortably beating Tunisia and Panama and so should get out of the group, regardless of the result against Belgium.

From here, there’s no reason why we shouldn’t be aiming for at least the quarter-finals with the talent we have available to us and I think that would definitely be classed as a successful tournament.


Which team will surprise everyone?

THLM: are my dark horses this summer. They have gone a record 14 games unbeaten at the time of writing – a run which includes wins against the likes of Croatia, Iceland and Scotland – and are playing with the kind of confidence which wins over crowds at international tournaments.

Add to that a fervent travelling support and the return of captain and all-time top scorer Paolo Guerrero, whose doping ban has been temporarily lifted for the tournament, and you have all the makings of a breakout team. Their first World Cup appearance since 1982 will pose fresh challenges – they face a difficult group including France, Denmark and Australia – but Ricardo Gareca’s side will certainly be one to watch in Russia.

WJ: Looking at the groups I reckon Senegal have an outside chance of progressing. They have a range of Premier League talent and a very strong midfield – Idrissa Gueye is one of the best holding players in England in my opinion – to support an attack that contains the electric Sadio Mane.

EJ: Providing Mohamed Salah returns from injury on time, Egypt. There are not many other teams at the tournament who have a player in the kind of form Salah has shown this season. They were handed a favourable group draw and they could have a decent run if their ‘Egyptian King’ is fit on time to face Uruguay this week.

LG: England. Although I get overly excited every time a major tournament comes around, I genuinely think England are a threat, with a clear path to the quarters and a new, exciting system. If Harry Kane enters a purple patch, we will be tough to stop.

EL: I think Senegal could be the real dark horse of this tournament. They have the obvious world class talent in Sadio Mane, but also a real solid core with players like Kalidou Koulibaly, Idrissa Gueye and Cheikhou Kouyate. Japan, Colombia and Poland are the other teams in their group, making it incredibly open and likely the most interesting of the tournament. Senegal could easily make it out of that group and from there, anything is possible.


Who will be top scorer? 

THLM: It’s a boring answer, but Neymar. Brazil have gone from strength to strength under new coach Tite, and will be looking to wipe out the ghosts of the Mineirazo this summer.

They will surely reach the final stages of the tournament, giving their star player the best chance to win the Golden Boot. Much will be expected of Neymar again, but there will be less pressure on him than in Brazil four years ago. That will allow him to flourish as the Brazilians aim for a sixth trophy.

WJ: Antoine Griezmann. His team should go a long way and he will get a plethora of chances with the likes of Paul Pogba and Thomas Lemar playing behind him. Brazil’s Gabriel Jesus could also be a decent shout too.

EJ: Should he be fit, it is hard to see past Neymar. The Brazilian has an incredible goalscoring record and will only be aided by his side’s fearless attacking set-up.

That being said, the race for the Golden Boot will be a tight affair with competition from strong contenders like Messi, Griezmann and Müller. Timo Werner will also be one to watch on his World Cup debut.

LG: I’m tempted to go Harry Kane but for a bit of impartiality I’ll say Lionel Messi, with the greatest of all-time to deliver on the biggest stage of all. Having carried Argentina to the World Cup, he will take his side to the latter stages only to be let down by his teammates again.

EL: I’m going to go with one of the favourites, Antoine Griezmann. He’s been in good goalscoring form for Atletico Madrid this season, scoring 29 goals in all competitions, and I can seeing him racking up quite a few in France’s fairly easy group of Peru, Denmark and Australia. It’s also very likely that France will make it right to the end of the tournament, giving him more opportunity than others to win the Golden Boot.


Our writers’ predictions

Winners: Spain

England will get to: Quarter-finals

Dark horses:

Golden Boot: Neymar

Winners: France

England will get to: Quarter-finals

Dark horses: Senegal

Golden Boot: Antoine Griezmann

Winners: Brazil

England will get to: Quarter-finals

Dark horses: Egypt

Golden Boot: Neymar

Winners: Germany

England will get to: Quarter-finals

Dark horses: England

Golden Boot: Lionel Messi

Winners: Spain

England will get to: Quarter-finals

Dark horses: Senegal

Golden Boot: Antoine Griezmann

Photograph: via Wikimedia Commons

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