Predictions: World Cup

As World Cup matches begin in Qatar, wlhsNOW reporters give their takes on what’s to come


Karina Rower

After not qualifying in 2018 the U.S. Men’s National Team will play in the World Cup for the first time since 2014.

Every four years, the World Cup rolls around, bringing together the best soccer players in the world for roughly a month while fans across the world tune in to watch the spectacle. Legends, like Pele and Maradona, cemented their legacies at this storied tournament and every edition brings a new crop of players vying to follow in their footsteps. A tournament this large is not without its cliches and controversies, but in the case of the World Cup this becomes part of its appeal.

Predicting who will receive awards such as the Golden Boot (most goals scored), Golden Ball (best overall player), and Golden Glove (most saves made) is part of the excitement of the tournament and allows fans to get in on the action. Throughout this World Cup, as with every World Cup, the unexpected is expected. There is always a breakout player, a team that makes it way further in the tournament than anyone thought possible, and a team that disappoints. All of this however, is what makes both trying to predict the outcome of the tournament and actually watching it interesting. It is why generations of soccer fans have spent hours with their eyes glued to television screens and why the tournament will endure for decades to come.

Q: Which nation will win the World Cup?

AL: Argentina. This is Lionel Messi’s year, he has been having a great season, especially for the Argentinian national team, and has said this will be his last World Cup. Argentina has a good enough team around Messi to potentially win, and the idea that an iconic player like Messi could finish their career without winning a World Cup just feels wrong. Also with all of the injuries to France, on paper Argentina’s biggest competition is Brazil whom they beat in the Copa America last year. Women’s soccer recently watched the career of Marta end without a World Cup and it is sad to think that Messi’s career could end in the same way, winning everything except soccer’s biggest prize.

JM: Belgium. Kevin De Bruyne and Belgium have hit the twilight of their dynasty, if you can call it that. Normally not a perennial contender, Belgium got a lot of talent to start the last decade. However, they do not have a major international championship to show for this. There are top nations in their prime, such as Brazil, Argentina, France and some are on the rise such as the USMNT and Spain. Despite this, Belgium will overcome doubt to claim the World Cup to cap off their “golden age” by defeating Argentina.


Q: Which nation will defy expectations?

AL: Denmark. Though I was tempted to pick the USMNT to be the dark horse of this tournament, I’m not sure if they have the depth or cohesion to go all the way. On the other hand, Denmark has a well put together squad that made a run at the most recent edition of the Euros despite losing their best player, Christian Eriksen, to cardiac arrest during a game. His remarkable comeback could spur this team to great things and while Denmark doesn’t have the most talented roster in this tournament they are playing with a little extra motivation that has the potential to go a long way.

Audrey Lippert’s picks for the knockout rounds of the World Cup include the USMNT advancing and Argentina winning it all vs. France in the final. (Joseph Murphy)

JM: Canada. If the World Cup were designed in a way where there were multiple games per matchup, I don’t see Canada consistently putting up goals against top teams. However, it’s not designed like that and I see Canada going on a run. The high-flying offense, led by Alphonso Davies, seeks to give top teams a run for their money. In the final round of World Cup Qualifiers, they scored 23 goals in 14 matches to get eight wins. Canada didn’t have Davies for seven of those matches. The morning of Nov. 27 will feature Davies flying past Croatian defender Josko Gvardiol for the winning goal, propelling Canada towards the knockout stage. From Qatar, you can hear the nation of Canada chanting “O Canada” as Canada’s improbable run to relevance continues. 


Q: Which nation will disappoint?

AL: England. The tried and true answer to this question is always England. No matter what happens they never seem to be able to find that next gear at the World Cup, and while Harry Kane is always a threat, England just always seems to get it wrong at the World Cup. This year should be no exception, especially with the team being ranked fifth by FIFA. Fans seem to expect nothing less than a semifinal appearance, which automatically sets them up for disappointment.

JM: Portugal. Though firepower is pouring in for Christiano Ronaldo’s going-out party, I don’t think Portugal will take advantage. Ronaldo is the centerpiece of Portugal and he has always sets the tone. Despite a stellar career, Ronaldo’s talents are slowly waning. Bruno Fernandes and the supporting cast are supposed to pick up Ronaldo’s slack but they were unable to show that during the 2020 Euros. I expect the same. 


Q: What player injury will affect the World Cup the most?

AL: Pogba and Kanté. Injuries are an unfortunate part of every sport, but in the runup to the World Cup watching players go down in games becomes even more gut-wrenching. The most impactful injury related absences of this World Cup will be Paul Pogba and N’Golo Kanté of France. These two players have a wealth of experience and are the backbone of the defending champions’ midfield, without them France’s chances of going back to back look bleak.

JM: Sadio Mane. Senegal plays through Mane and without their centerpiece, Senegal will not be able to make any noise. Though their group is by far the easiest, Senegal will immediately play the Group B winner, which is a difficult group. I still see Senegal getting second in their group but they play the Netherlands in the group stage and I think they will lose that game. Senegal would play the Group B winner, which I predict to be England, and I don’t see Senegal beating them. Senegal needs Mane’s talent to overcome good teams.


Q: Who will win the Golden Ball? Golden Boot? Golden Glove?

AL: Eriksen. Lewandowski. Mendy.

JM: De Bruyne. Kane. Ochoa.


Q: What Group will be the hardest to qualify out of?

AL: Group B. The USMNT’s group has the lowest overall FIFA ranking and all of the teams with the exception of England are at a relatively similar skill level. The teams in this group are also hard to read since Wales relies so heavily on Garath Bale, a wily but unpredictable veteran, who at his best could take over a game and at his worst be completely uninvolved in the game. Iran has no star player, but an even amount of skill across the board and no glaring weaknesses. England has a ton of starpower but has been unable to find success on the international stage for generations, with their latest failure being a loss at home in the final of the Euros to Italy, who didn’t qualify for the World Cup. Lastly, the USMNT is young with an extremely dynamic midfield, but no true forward, and is untested on the international stage due to missing the 2018 World Cup and playing in CONCACAF, where their only real competition is Mexico and sometimes Canada or Costa Rica.

Joseph Murphy has Belgium defeating Argentina in the final and the USMNT falling short in the group stage in his bracket. (Joseph Murphy)

JM: Group F. We have two nations, Croatia and Belgium, that we know will be good. Croatia was the story of last year’s World Cup, becoming the least populated country to ever reach the championship. Led by Luka Modric, who is still playing at a high level, Croatia is a dependable nation that limits mistakes and capitalizes on opportune moments. Belgium is a perennial contender with talent such De Bruyne, Courtois, Lukaku, and Hazard. They got the experience to limit mistakes. With all that being said, do not forget about Canada, who seeks to make life in Group F difficult with their fiery offense and blazing speed. As for Morocco, they have a FIFA ranking of 22 because of a feisty defensive team led by Achraf Hakimi. Though Morocco is really untested, defensive teams in sports are known to hang around because of their scrappiness and their ability to “annoy” the opponent. Watch out for a lot of close matchups from this group.


Q: How far is the U.S. Men’s National Team (USMNT) going?

AL: If FIFA rankings are to be believed the USMNT should make it out of Group B in second place, but FIFA rankings are not to be trusted and in any case Wales and Iran are 19th and 20th, respectively, to the USMNT’s 16th. Group B has the lowest average FIFA ranking of any group and all of the teams are relatively close together, with the exception of England who is ranked fifth. The USMNT is also the youngest team by average age in the World Cup and therefore is highly unpredictable. They could fall flat on their faces and not make it out of the group stage, but they could also advance through the knockouts. Most likely they’ll fall somewhere in the middle and lose in the knockout rounds.

JM: They are too unpredictable and I don’t feel confident enough to pick them to go far. With them being in a group with England and Wales, who have played better competition, I don’t see the USMNT contending with that experience. They are a talented young team but they are extremely streaky and going into the tournament, they didn’t show a solid performance during the warm-ups. Though they come into the tournament healthy, Injuries are what I think will derail this team. Weston McKinnie just came off injury and I also don’t see Gio Reyna as a capable midfielder at this point in his career, especially with that injury history. Capability and consistency is what’s needed for a good minimum from a squad and while the USMNT has a high ceiling, I’m not counting on them to make a run. They won’t make it out of the group stage.


For a more in depth look at all of these questions and more, listen to the World Cup edition of wlhsNOW Sports Center on Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts.