We should get out of the group – then it’s either the mighty France or the excellent Denmark, and all bets are off because we do not know how we measure up against strong European teams. That’s the cold reality. If we can pass that hurdle, we could go to the final.
I’m overexcited about the World Cup, but this probably has more to do with everything else being so dire in Argentina that people are in desperate need of good news – not to mention the government, which is also in desperate need of distractions. And, of course, people are crazy about this team because we finally won a tournament in 2021 after being a shambles up to that point.
I love football and the national team so am always excited but, with the World Cup being in Qatar, there are even more reasons than usual to dislike the whole Fifa shadiness. As for Argentina, we have a proper team, which is nothing short of a miracle considering the state we were until a year ago. Victory at the 2021 Copa América against Brazil changed everything and I can’t tell you how happy I am for the players (past and present), who always gave everything for the team and had to put up with a lot of undeserved, ungrateful abuse.
This team is not all about Lionel Messi, but it’s always going to be all about Messi anyway. If the team can keep functioning as a team when they play against top European opposition, Argentina will be serious contenders. As for Messi, what else is there to say? No one has given so much footballing joy to so many people for so long. Should he win, millions of people all over the world are going to be happy for him, even in countries where there’s very little sympathy for the Argentina national team. That’s something you cannot say about any other single player. Mariano Prunes
We will go all the way to the group stage and back, sigh. We could be a headache for reigning champions France in the opening game and Denmark found us a challenge in 2018 but they have improved since. I don’t think we’ll beat either team, but with the hallowed “Aussie DNA” we can hopefully keep it tight and nick a goal or two. I’m cautiously optimistic about winning our clash with Tunisia. The expectation is that we’ll make life interesting for the European heavyweights and, heaven forbid, get a goal or two from open play.
Truth be told, we’re happy to be there and make do with the group stage after taking the scenic route in qualification against Peru. That said, the controversies surrounding the building of the stadiums, the laws in Qatar and the timing of the event are saddening and worrying. I’m concerned for fan safety as well as that of the players. Player welfare is a big issue given the host of injuries we’ve seen already.
In terms of players to look out for we have Aaron Mooy, the Aussie Pirlo, who will be pulling the strings in the middle of the park. We need him to be in form. The same goes for Mat Ryan, a very capable and experienced goalkeeper who will be kept busy. Samuel Morse
We will probably get out of the group and face either Spain or Germany in the last-16 stage. In both cases we won’t be favourites. Maybe the role of underdog will suit us though. Going beyond the quarter-finals would be a total success considering our ageing golden generation and inexperienced young players.
The most worrying area is the defence, where we have a mix of creaking players – Toby Alderweireld and Jan Vertonghen – and young players such as Zeno Debast, Wout Faes and Arthur Theate. Romelu Lukaku is not fit for the start of the tournament so we need Kevin De Bruyne firing on all cylinders and Thibaut Courtois to be in wall mode. We missed a golden opportunity in 2018. This was a now or never moment. Bernard Hautecler
It’s time for Brazil to win the World Cup. It’s been 20 years since we last won it and Lula had just been elected in 2002 as well, so this must be a sign this is our year. People in Brazil are always optimistic we will win it.
Which players should people look out for? Excuse me, but I will not be helping our opponents. In truth, the whole team is playing well in their leagues, so opponents should prepare for all the Canarinhos. Mariana Scalassara
Canada have a slight chance of escaping their group (Belgium, Croatia and Morocco), but, if elements line up and they have a little luck and self-belief, they could make it to the knockout round before succumbing to some world power.
Canadians are thoroughly stoked about this World Cup, which is a first for this nation. It’s only in the past decade we’ve embraced the sport at a professional level with MLS, the still fledgling Canadian Premier League and a growing immigrant-led population who grew up with a ball at their feet. Also, it’s only been recently that we’ve had full access to watch European soccer, regularly, on television. That goes a long way to fuelling the dreams of kids playing in the back yard on some lumpy, snow-covered pitch in early September.
Some of us are old enough to have memories of Dale Mitchell, Tino Lettieri, Bob Lenarduzzi, Carl Valentine et al at the World Cup for Canada in 1986 in Mexico. We had a team based on defence with no scoring whatsoever. Brutal. That has all changed this time. I’m going to try to watch every game of the World Cup, which may affect my sanity and my marriage. David Lennam
Croatia can make it to the quarter-finals at least. There are many players of the new generation who will prove themselves to be worthy of those who made it to the final in 2018. Aside from them, the remaining veterans of 2018 will be there as well. Croats are a sanguine people and being labelled underdogs makes our football team even more competitive and determined.
In terms of players to watch, Dominik Livakovic is not Danijel Subasic but he is the best goalkeeper we have. We will miss Mario Mandzukic but we still have Marcelo Brozovic, Ivan Perisic, Mateo Kovacic and Andrej Kramaric. Domagoj Vida and Dejan Lovren are also returning, and they have shown in recent games that they still have their magic. The new players – Josko Gvardiol, Lovro Majer, Bruno Petkovic, Mislav Orsic and Borna Sosa – will not disappoint. I barely have to mention our captain, Luka Modric, who is already an institution. Tomer Nachman-Ribar
Depending on our results in the group stage, we might have a chance to reach the semi-finals. The big “but” is we may face Argentina before then. If we win the group, beating France – which is a fair possibility as we have already beaten them twice this year – then we might go a long way, like last year at the Euros.
Fans have a lot of belief as we have an excellent coach, a well-organised team, and some really good players who have known each other for a long time. The atmosphere and relation between the coach, players and fans is ambitious yet relaxed. In other words, very Danish. Anders Mygind
We could top the group, squeak a reasonable last-16 tie against Senegal and comfortably put away France in the quarter-finals. Or, we could be edged out in two international derbies against Wales and the US, and suffer a repeat 2014’s no-show. Choose your own adventure.
The mood in England is weird. Despite being the only England manager with a comparable record to Alf Ramsey, and having over-performed in two tournaments while implementing notably different gameplans in each (from dead-ball hopefuls in 2018 to a genuinely smart football team in 2021), it feels as if Southgate has to prove himself all over again. We’ve also managed to misplace about 37 full-backs; has anyone got Danny Rose’s number? Jack Roe
We’ve gone too far already, simply by going there. The mood at home is aside: “politics aside”, “climate aside”, “ethics aside”, “football culture aside” and “world situation aside”. I already feel ashamed for our victory in Russia and I hope France won’t have its name as winners of two of the most shameful World Cups in football history. Clement Blain
If Germany reach the semi-finals, I will consider that a success. We have the best coach and goalkeeper, and a formidable attack, yet results have not been coming as expected. The defence has been porous at times, we don’t have world beating wing-backs; and this squad has not demonstrated the killer instinct of previous Germany teams – that relentless aggression combined with technical capacity that Germany are renowned for. Of course, there is so much talent on the team, I would not be surprised if they win it, and I’m hoping they reach the semis or better. Eric N
The hope is that the team will overcome USA and Wales in the group and go through with England to the next stage. Most people think the team will be third in the group. More generally, I hope the world media stops its negative news about my country. I have no idea why should they mix politics with sport – do we, the people of Iran, deserve being removed from the World Cup because of politics? Ali Badieian
The manager’s goal is to reach the quarter-finals but we’ll be extremely hard-pressed to even get out of the group stage given that the only chance we have is to beat one (or maybe both) of Spain or Germany. There’s room for full-on embarrassment over the course of those three matches; there’s every chance we won’t even win the “easy” match of the group, against Costa Rica. No one outside of Japan’s setup has any faith whatsoever in the manager. The goal of reaching the last eight is seen as a delusional fever dream among Japan supporters. Fans’ expectations are so low. Just not being humiliated might be enough. Kei Teay
I’ve been following World Cups since in 2002 and have never seen such a pessimistic mood about Mexico’s chances. We always live in hope of reaching the quarter-finals, but this time there is a real fear that we won’t make it out of the group.
Gerardo Martino started great as a coach, winning and playing nice football, but that has gone. We’ve also had some bad luck. Raúl Jiménez was on his way to becoming one of the best strikers in the world and our top scorer, but he has not been the same after his skull fracture. Players such as Hector Herrera left competitive clubs in Europe for money in the MLS, and that attitude hasn’t helped.
We assume we will lose to Argentina and beat Saudi Arabia, so everything rests on the first game, against Poland. If we make it through, we will face France or Denmark in the round of 16. That should be our way out, in the fourth match, as usual.
I want to enjoy this World Cup because it will be the last with 32 teams. I hate the 48-teams idea due to the three teams per group format that opens the door to speculation and leaves a team just waiting for their luck in the last match without playing. That is a terrible idea that won’t work. Francisco Fontano Patan
I think we’ll reach the last eight. Morocco can get out of the group and then beat Spain in the last 16. They showed they can match Spain in the last World Cup. I’m very excited about the tournament because I’m going to be there. I have tickets for all of Morocco’s games and one for the last 16 should they make it. Bouh Mohammed
The Dutch team isn’t that good, but the coach is. We are difficult to beat and that’s something that can carry a team very far in a tournament. We can make it to the semi-finals, maybe further. Most people believe we have a chance of winning the World Cup
There is no real mood at all in the Netherlands. There’s more talk about the host nation, all the abuse there, than the team. Though now that Louis van Gaal has picked his squad the tension is rising a little bit. Last week I saw the first streets with orange decoration.
We have a few big talents. Xavi Simons is the rising star. The boy is absolutely fantastic, although he’s just 19 years old. He’s Louis van Gaal’s dark horse, because I think he won’t be a starter in most games. Another big talent is the defender Jurriën Timber, who is a starter. Of course Frenkie de Jong, Virgil van Dijk and Memphis Depay are players to look for. And in Luuk de Jong we have probably the best heading striker in the world. Simon van Herpen
Everything depends on our first game, against Mexico. Even though they are a wonderful team, they are missing some of their most crucial players – but so are we. Because I’m an optimist, I will say that we will finish second in the group and make it to the last 16, where I think we will be eliminated by either France or Denmark
We’ve flopped at most recent major tournaments but there is still hope in Poland considering we have perhaps the best striker in the world in Robert Lewandowski. Sebastian Szymanski is definitely a player to watch, as well as Nicola Zalewski. Bartek Hawro
Reaching the quarter-finals would be a pleasant surprise, but the mood is grim given the absurdly conservative style employed by our manager and the shadow that Cristiano Ronaldo is starting to cast over the team. We have maybe our best team ever, but it isn’t being put to use. We struck it lucky at Euros 2016 with the manager but that vibe is past.
The nation is eager for this World Cup because one of two things will happen: either this will be our best performance at a World Cup since 2006, or the manager is finally let go and the team will undergo a new cycle, without him and Ronaldo. Fans will genuinely rejoice at either. Ronaldo’s best years are behind him and a genuinely impressive team is being built before our eyes, if only we could take the focus away from him. José Rodrigues
Reaching the semi-finals would be an amazing achievement but the quarter-finals is more realistic. Spain are in the second tier of teams, alongside England and Germany, but we have a top manager and some of the best young players in Europe.
The two Barça stars Pedri and Gavi are full of quality and energy, and their performances could dictate how far Spain go. Luis Enrique’s style means that they don’t tend to play with a reliable goalscorer as the manager values workrate and how forwards contribute to the team. I’d love to see him more of Ansu Fati, who at only 20 could provide vital goalscoring instinct for the team. Oliver Jones
Three months ago I would have suggested that USA would cruise into the knockout stages. Our young team came together very well last summer, winning the Concacaf Nations League and Gold Cup, and suddenly had several key players playing in high-profile clubs. But there has been a dip in form for the team and some of the top players, Christian Pulisic especially, are not getting enough games. The striker position is a complete question mark.
As usual, fans are divided between the overly optimistic, “U-S-A! U-S-A!” types and those who are realistic about where the youngest squad in the world is in their development. Look out for Yunus Musah, a box-to-box midfielder who plays for Valencia, and Brendan Aaronson of Leeds. Andy Palmquist
It’s undoubtedly a tough group for La Celeste, who face a difficult opener against South Korea then Portugal and Ghana. Qualification is achievable and an appearance in the last 16 would be excellent. Uruguay are usually defined by a strong collective spirit with the imperious Diego Godín still an influential presence. The team had a not entirely undeserved reputation as being a bit “hatchety” in previous World Cups, 1986 and 1990 in particular, but that definition of their style is no longer valid. Qatar is going to be such a surreal experience – Uruguay may just be the team with the composure to thrive.
Uruguayans are upbeat about the team’s chances. There is excitement about the younger generation coming through. Young Facundo Torres looks an exciting prospect; Rodrigo Bentancur has impressed at Spurs; and I expect Godín to hold the side together. He is the dictionary definition of a seasoned campaigner. John Mageean
I’m old enough to remember all the qualification near misses so, even though I disagree with a Qatar World Cup, I’ll be getting behind the boys.
The first game is a must-win. Get past the USA and it sets us up nicely to get out of the group. We should give England a rattle but I doubt we have enough to win that one. Hopefully another win against Iran should see us through, although we can’t take them lightly like Scotland did in 1978. Realistically we will probably meet Netherlands in the last 16. After only losing to them twice by the odd goal in recent Nations League games I reckon we can cause a shock. Both defeats came with goals conceded in injury time. Having said that, I fancy Senegal to surprise a few and they could top their group. I would give us a better chance against the slightly less physical Dutch than the Senegalese. That’s probably the best we can hope for as we’d probably meet France, Denmark or Argentina in the quarter-finals.
To reach the finals after so much heartache is massive. The mood in the country is amazing. The Red Wall will travel in full voice and will be fantastic ambassadors for our nation. We won’t win the World Cup but we’ll have a damn good time. I’m very excited but am trying to put the Qatar element in the shade. It should never have been awarded to them and it’s disappointing that a lot of our supporters can’t go because of where it’s being held. I have chosen to stay at home as I’d be a hypocrite if I went but it won’t stop me roaring my support when we’re playing. Andy Davies