World Cup 2022: Guardian writers’ predictions for the tournament | World Cup 2022

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Which two teams will reach the final – and who will win?

Brazil v France – a repeat of 1998 – looks more than possible, but the outcome will be reversed this time. Nick Ames

A South American showdown: Argentina v Brazil, and Brazil to win. Ben Fisher

Brazil over Belgium. The Seleção’s embarrassment of attacking riches – headlined by Neymar, Vinícius Jr, Gabriel Martinelli, Rodrygo and Raphinha – will break Europe’s two-decade stranglehold and plant the flag for another Brazilian dynasty. Bryan Armen Graham

Brazil v France with Tite’s favourites avenging their country’s defeat in the 1998 final. Andy Hunter

Brazil to beat France in the final. Brazil have the firepower and the range of options to end 20 years of heartbreak. David Hytner

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Qatar: beyond the football

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This is a World Cup like no other. For the last 12 years the Guardian has been reporting on the issues surrounding Qatar 2022, from corruption and human rights abuses to the treatment of migrant workers and discriminatory laws. The best of our journalism is gathered on our dedicated Qatar: Beyond the Football home page for those who want to go deeper into the issues beyond the pitch.

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The best two teams here are Brazil, who have lost just three times in the last four years, and Argentina, who are unbeaten since 2019. But if they top their group they’ll meet in the semi-finals. So let’s say Brazil v Spain, with Brazil winning. Arsène Wenger’s maxim, that the team with the best keeper wins the World Cup, holds more often than not. Sean Ingle

Argentina and Brazil after the latter finish second in Group G and enter the other side of draw. 3-2 to Argentina in the best final since Italy beat West Germany 3-1 in 1982. Jamie Jackson

Argentina and Germany to contest the final, with the former finally possessing a supporting cast capable of sending their main man, Lionel Messi, off with the trophy he has long coveted. Emma Kemp

This feels like Argentina’s time, a battle-hardened squad with a strong sense of mission (Mession?) and an ability to grind out results. France should emerge from what promises to be by far the weaker half of the draw. Jonathan Liew

Lionel Messi is thrown into the air after Argentina’s win over Italy at Wembley
Lionel Messi could lead Argentina’ battle-hardened squad to World Cup glory. Photograph: Adrian Dennis/AFP/Getty Images

Brazil will. They will beat France. Sid Lowe

Argentina will beat England 3-2. I have come to this conclusion by calculating what I think ought to be the answer (Brazil beating France) then tweaking it a bit to create something I would rather see. Paul MacInnes

Argentina and France. Messi for the win, followed by a tearful, heartfelt speech about the dubious moral nature of this World Cup and instant retirement. Barney Ronay

Argentina will win their semi-final against Brazil. Then Lionel Messi will beat Spain in the final. Jacob Steinberg

It’s deja vu time. The clock turns back to 1998 in Paris so it’s Brazil and France in Doha with France to win again and crowds dancing down the Champs-Élysées once more. Louise Taylor

Argentina to beat Germany. Given injuries, fatigue and the lack of preparation time, this feels a very hard World Cup to predict so if the European stranglehold is to be broken, it may have to be now. Argentina and Brazil are both in great form – albeit having played limited European opposition, but I worry about the back of Brazil’s midfield, whereas Argentina, even without Giovani Lo Celso, have a nice balance and the narrative thrust of Lionel Messi in his final World Cup. Germany and Spain look the most coherent European teams, but Germany perhaps have a little more experience. Jonathan Wilson

Who will win the Golden Boot?

Karim Benzema looks a fair bet for this, particularly considering France’s group. NA

Darwin Núñez. Ten goals in his past 20 appearances for club and country is a more than respectable return and it could be a fruitful tournament for the Liverpool forward. BF

Neymar. Only three goals shy of breaking Pelé’s record and becoming Brazil’s all-time top goalscorer, the in-form PSG star’s firm hold on penalty duties for a team that should go far will only help. BAG

Cristiano Ronaldo, on the basis he is unlikely to bow out quietly. AH

Karim Benzema. France will go deep in the competition and the Ballon d’Or winner will sense the chance to get up and running quickly against Australia and Tunisia in the group phase. DH

Karim Benzema celebrates scoring for France
Karim Benzema has a strong chance of top scoring for France. Photograph: JE E/SIPA/Shutterstock

The usual formula is to pick a penalty taker from a strong team. So let’s go with Leo Messi. SI

Robert Lewandowski as he fires Poland to the knockout phase for a first time since 1986. JJ

Harry Kane to retain it at a pinch over (the potentially injured) Karim Benzema. Even if England do not make it past the quarter-finals (see below), the opposition until that point presents their frontman with plenty of opportunities. EK

Darwin Núñez. Three headers, two off his shin and one off an unidentified body part during a goalmouth scramble against South Korea, in case you’re wondering. JL

Mbappé. SL

Lionel Messi. It’s about time, the group’s not strong and let’s face it, he’s capable of it. PM

Kylian Mbappé. BR

Assuming no one signs Erling Haaland on a last-minute loan, how about Lautaro Martínez to benefit from Messi’s service? JS

Despite England’s likely quarter-final loss to France Harry Kane will clock up sufficient goals to ensure he becomes the tournament’s top scorer. It’s the award his exceptional talent as a rare, ultra special, No 9/No 10 hybrid demands. LT

Memphis Depay. He was joint leading scorer in European qualifying, clearly loves the role he has for the Netherlands under Louis van Gaal and, given the groups, it’s easy to imagine him getting a couple against either or both of Qatar and Ecuador, then maybe Wales or USA in the last-16. JW

Who will be the surprise team of the tournament?

With the caveat that they must first make it through the competition’s most fiendish group, Serbia look ready to cast aside the “mercurial” tag and make a big impression. Their attacking options are up there with most and the coach, “Piksi” Stojkovic, has drilled them superbly. NA

Nobody is really talking about Croatia, England’s old foes who have a classy midfield and will surely fancy their chances of qualifying out of Group F with a spring in their step. BF

Uruguay. Left for dead in the early stages of qualifying, La Celeste came to life after Diego Alonso replaced longtime manager Óscar Tabárez and installed a high press to create chances for Luis Suárez, Darwin Núñez and Edinson Cavani. A semi-final run is not out of the question. BAG

Darwin Núñez in action for Uruguay
Darwin Núñez could help Uruguay emerge as one of the surprise teams of the tournament. Photograph: Denny Medley/USA Today Sports

Still holding on to the hope that Senegal can build on their first victory at the Africa Cup of Nations in February, despite the seismic loss of Sadio Mané. AH

If Serbia can get the better of Switzerland in the group – and I think they can – they could reach the quarter-finals, at least. Dragan Stojkovic has great attacking potential to call upon. DH

Denmark. Not impossible that they finish top of the group, ahead of France, and then play Mexico or Poland in the last-16 and then England in the quarters. SI

USA – which might be bad news for England, with whom they share a group. Look out for DeAndre Yedlin, the sole survivor from their last appearance in 2014 who has Premier League experience, and rising star, Haji Wright. JJ

Serbia seem poised to progress past the group stage for the first time in history and possibly even make life difficult for others once they do. Dragan Stojkovic’s outfit qualified convincingly on the back of fluent, attacking football utilising their wing-backs and proven forward pairing Aleksandar Mitrovic and Dusan Vlahovic. EK

Reached the knockouts at the last four major tournaments; stunned France at Euro 2020, beat Spain and Portugal in the last five months. Yes: everyone’s forgotten about Switzerland again. JL

Ghana. SL

If a revivified Uruguay – Darwin Núñez, Fede Valverde et al – are too obvious, then let’s say Canada. Impressive in qualifying, a nation behind them and – in Alphonso Davies and Jonathan David – quality going forward. Could squeeze through group F if Belgium falter. PM

Serbia. BR

Denmark were a breath of fresh air at Euro 2020 and this time they have Christian Eriksen. My Spain tip is dependent on the Danes pipping France to first spot in Group D. JS

The Netherlands. The squad is strong, they are unbeaten in 15 games and crown princes of the high press so they should go deep, offering Louis van Gaal a deserved last managerial hurrah. LT

Ghana were terrible in the Cup of Nations, but they have a new management structure and seem to have done things relatively sensibly since the Chris Hughton/Otto Addo pairing took charge, not least by persuading Tariq Lamptey and Iñaki Williams to play for Ghana. And that group is full of unpredictable sides.

Who will be breakthrough player of the tournament?

Xavi Simons could well show his lavish talent to the wider world if Louis van Gaal lets him off the leash for the Netherlands. Another Dutch-based player, the thrilling Mohammed Kudus, is capable of burnishing both his and Ghana’s prospects this winter. NA

Xavi Simons, a Next Generation pick in 2020, arrives uncapped but could leave Qatar a Dutch hero. Louis van Gaal has picked up on the 19-year-old’s fine performances since leaving Paris Saint-Germain last year and there is plenty of headroom for the dreadlocked PSV midfielder to blossom. Simons spent nine years in the academy at Barcelona and is now making a splash in the Eredivisie. BF

Gavi. Spain’s precocious attacking midfielder only turned 18 in August, but he has already made 50 appearances for Barcelona and a dozen for the national side. Expect an international coming-out not unlike Pedri’s at last year’s Euros. BAG

It will be interesting to see if Pedri – who only turns 20 during the tournament – can transfer his Barcelona form onto the world stage. AH

Pedri playing for Spain
Pedri will hope to transfer his form for Barcelona on to the world stage with Spain. Photograph: Quality Sport Images/Getty Images

This could be Jude Bellingham’s tournament. Only 19, the England midfielder is having the best goalscoring season of his career – nine already for Borussia Dortmund – and his range of other attributes represent a heady cocktail. DH

Depends what you mean by breakout but in Jamal Musiala and Youssoufa Moukoko Germany have two legitimate shots. SI

Jack Grealish will shake this World Cup and make the team of the tournament. JJ

I am biased, but the Australian forward Garang Kuol has the raw talent and tenacity to change a game out of nothing. The (only just) 18-year-old striker has yet to start a single senior club match but recently signed with Newcastle United and is a wildcard World Cup selection with impact substitute written all over it. EK

Vinícius Júnior hasn’t really hit his straps for Brazil yet, and isn’t even guaranteed a starting place. But if Tite can find a role for him in Qatar – and he really should – this could be the explosion of an extraordinary talent. JL

If he even counts as breakthrough: Gavi. SL

Depends what a breakthrough is, but one of the Bundesliga boys – Jamal Musiala and Jude Bellingham – could leave a mark. PM

Cristiano Ronaldo. Or Cody Gakpo. BR

Germany’s Jamal Musiala is a bewitching talent. And he could have played for England. JS

Bruno Guimarães. The 24-year-old Newcastle United midfielder has only eight senior caps so far but, given the chance, would be capable of switching the lights on for Brazil in Doha. His central midfield talent – whether deployed as a No 6 or No 8 – is sufficiently powerful to ensure he becomes virtually indispensable; even to a team this gifted. LT

Enzo Fernández has been in great form for Benfica and could get his chance in Argentina’s midfield with Lo Celso injured. The 21-year-old was very impressive after coming off the bench in the friendly against Honduras in September. JW

How far will England and Wales get?

England: quarter-finals. Wales: valiant but agonising group stage exit. NA

England reach the quarter-finals, the damning inquest begins and Gareth Southgate walks away after six years of unwanted spotlight. Wales to make it to the last-16 but avoid the hysteria. BF

England celebrate scoring a goal at Wembley
England were beaten in the semi-finals at the last World Cup. Photograph: Matthew Ashton/AMA/Getty Images

Wales’ first World Cup in 64 years will be a quick one as they go quietly in the group stage. England won’t be far behind after getting all they can handle from either Senegal or the Netherlands in the last-16. BAG

Both to make it out of the group, and both to go out in the last-16. AH

With England, it could be anything from quarter-finalists to finalists. My heart says the latter, that there were mitigating factors for their Nations League dip, that the experience and quality is there. My head says an exit in the quarters, probably to France. Wales to reach the last-16. DH

With England nothing would surprise me, but the draw has fallen their way and they will be in the easier half if they top their group. Wales will do well to progress to the last-16. SI

England – last-16. Wales – group. JJ

It’s not coming home, and I’m going to wager it’ll get lost in transit somewhere around the quarter-finals on the evidence of England’s recent issues and Nations League woes. If Wales (welcome back) keep their veterans injury-free they could yet beat the United States and Iran to second spot and seal a spot in the round of 16. EK

England group stage. Wales last-16. JL

Not far enough. Would love to think Wales will get out the group but I fear it’s unlikely – although don’t underestimate how good Bale could be. England are remarkably consistent really and more or less always do the same thing at a World Cup, at least in knockout phases, which is to beat the teams they “should” beat and go out to the first really strong team. Maybe a step better this time. Semis. SL

England will get to the final (see above) or go out at any point after the group stage. Wales will get to the second round thanks to Gareth Bale. PM

Suspect neither will get past the last-16. Although oddly, can also see England winning it, Gareth Bale being inexplicably brilliant and the Welsh generally cheering everyone up. Football eh? BR

Gareth Bale in training
Gareth Bale could help Wales qualify for the knockout stages in Qatar. Photograph: Matthew Childs/Action Images/Reuters

England will lose in the last four to Spain – we’ll talk a lot about the lack of a controlling midfielder. Wales will go out in the last-16 to Holland. JS

England to the quarter-finals and a likely defeat to France. Wales to the round of 16 where the Netherlands may well lie in wait. LT

England could easily go out in the group, or they could win it, but a quarter-final exit feels about reasonable. Wales have a great opportunity to finish above the US and get to the last-16. JW

How do you feel about going to Qatar to cover the tournament?

What would normally be the pinnacle of this profession is undoubtedly tempered by the context. That certainly hits home when friends you spent cherished moments with watching World Cups in childhood say they will not be tuning in this time. But I’m convinced it’s important to be there, and feel I’m part of a conscientious reporting team who will try our hardest to bring all elements of the tournament to readers with depth and sensitivity. NA

Naturally conflicted. Am excited about covering my first World Cup and Wales’s first for 64 years but that many fans feel they cannot be here to witness it safely is the sad and depressing reality. The Rainbow Wall, a Welsh LGBTQ+ fans group, are among those not travelling. BF

On one hand, if you’re serious about framing yourself as a truly global game, then you are going to have to bring your showcase event to the Arab world at some point. As a pure outcome, the Middle East deserved a first World Cup before the United States deserved a second. On the other, there’s no getting around the stomach-turning human cost of the spectacle ahead and I expect it to be front of mind throughout the month. BAG

A worker sweeps a staircase inside the Al-Bayt Stadium
Migrant workers have been exploited and endured dangerous conditions in the buildup to the World Cup in Qatar. Photograph: Gabriel Bouys/AFP/Getty Images

Covering a World Cup should be a career highlight. Sadly, due to Fifa greed and corruption, this feels anything but. AH

We have talked a lot internally at the Guardian about getting the balance of our coverage right, about shining a light on the human rights abuses in Qatar and also celebrating the football. My hope is that the latter can be achieved. My worry is that the two elements are not mutually exclusive. DH

After a month in Beijing for the Winter Olympics in February, nothing will surprise me. And it’s a journalist’s job to cover stories, wherever they take place in the world. SI

Excited, fascinated, while also having serious issues with Qatar’s human rights issues, its anti-gay laws and how women are treated. Regarding purely the football matches and being at a World Cup, this writer truly cannot wait. JJ

Uneasy, about participating in an event tainted by corruption, covering games inside stadiums potentially built by people who have died, and the possibility that I will contribute to sportswashing by writing about the actual football. But I also feel better about being here than not, because this World Cup will go ahead with or without journalists, and at least if we are on the ground we can record what we see and hear. EK

The correct answer here is probably “conflicted” or “morally ambivalent”. Actually, I can’t wait. Sitting at home and stewing in righteous outrage is all very well, but we’ve all been doing that for 12 years. Time to get out there and chronicle the whole sickening escapade for posterity. JL

I don’t know the right answer to this. SL

Qatar should never have got the tournament, and the reasons why have been reported by the media. Now it’s time for the biggest event in the world and that needs covering too. PM

Determined, curious, excited but basically quite disturbed by the whole thing. BR

Conflicted. I’ve never been to a World Cup before, so I should be excited. It’s just that it’s impossible to get away from everything surrounding the tournament. JS

Conflicted. I love the Middle East and feel a World Cup staged in the region is overdue but it is a shame this one comes so heavily caveated by the self destructively slow progress made regarding the treatment of construction workers, human rights and women’s freedoms since it was awarded 12 years ago. LT

Sad that a tournament that should be about bringing people together through sport is so debased, by its use as a propaganda tool and by corporate greed. But I find the idea journalists shouldn’t be here bizarre. I’ve been to Egypt, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon and Cameroon to cover Cups of Nations but that doesn’t mean I endorsed the regimes of Mubarak, Obiang, Bongo or Biya; rather my job was to provide a record, both of the sport and what surrounded it. I’m not sure the world would have benefited had Nick Ames and I sat at home moaning about how awful the Cameroonian government is rather than reporting on January’s tragedy in Yaounde. If people don’t understand that, they don’t understand what journalism is. JW

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