The 2022 FIFA World Cup begins in just two days, and the eyes of the sporting world will be upon Qatar as soccer's most prestigious tournament takes to the field once again. For all of the controversies surrounding Qatar's hosting of the World Cup this year, the country is still preparing to see record revenues for the event, with soccer fanatics from around the world descending to watch their nation compete.
That begs the question, then — who will win the World Cup? There will be 32 teams competing, but only one will claim the title of World Champion. A number of key contenders are likely to battle it out for the top prize in soccer.
One of two South American teams will hoist the World Cup
While the Europeans have a number of strong national clubs again this year, "the 'real' final will come in the semis, with this time it being rivals Brazil and Argentina dueling in a classic," predicts Avi Creditor for Sports Illustrated. "But in the end, it's Brazil returning to glory, ending a 20-year wait with a win over a resurgent Germany in a proper final."
Creditor adds that the Brazilians "have solved their problem of being too Neymar-dependent, and while the [Paris Saint-Germain] star will break Pelé's all-time national scoring record at the tournament, the talk of Qatar will be young Real Madrid stars Vinícius Júnior and Rodrygo and the budding of another Brazilian dynasty."
Sports Illustrated's Andrew Gastelum agrees, writing, "All signs point to this being Brazil's World Cup to lose, which it very well could do given all the pressure the team is under. But other than France, Brazil enters as the most complete and balanced squad in the tournament ... Brazil's attack is teeming with talented options that could give it a new formidable front three for every group-stage match and still see it compete for the title."
Don't count out Argentina though, another strong South American contender. "What a send-off as Messi opens the scoring early and Argentina add a late insurance goal ... After being runners-up in 2014, Argentina will be able to capture their first World Cup title since 1986 in Mexico," writes Chuck Booth for CBS Sports.
Ben Snowball for Eurosports also sees Argentina emerging victorious, writing, "It's hard to look beyond Argentina. They aren't just a bunch of strikers and a fire extinguisher-wielding Javier Mascherano anymore. It's a proper team, one that have conceded just twice in their past 14 matches, and one that look set to elevate Messi to true GOAT status."
France could emerge as unlikely winners
France won the 2018 World Cup and is looking to defend their title, and Kyle Bonn for The Sporting News writes that the French "are still considered one of the favorites to win the 2022 World Cup. Depending on the bookmaker, they're either second-favorite or third-favorite to lift the World Cup trophy."
Even Lionel Messi, the captain of the Argentine club, thinks France has a decent shot at winning the title. "Brazil, France, England (are above the rest). Today, they are a little above the rest but anything can happen," Messi said in an interview, per The Athletic.
England could become a toss-up
England has not won the World Cup in more than half a century, but Ryan Sanders for DraftKings Nation writes, "After 56 years they'll feel that it's past due to earn another one. They've got the talent to make a very deep run with the likes of Harry Kane, Raheem Sterling, Marcus Rashford, Phil Foden, Mason Mount, and Trent Alexander-Arnold on the roster."
"[English manager] Gareth Southgate's side have loads of talent and could have a real shot at winning, though they'll have to get past the likes of France, Belgium, and Spain in the knockout rounds," Sanders adds.
However, The Athletic UK staff published an op-ed with reader opinions, in which they write, "Only five percent [of those polled] tipped 2018 semi-finalists and Euro 2020 runners-up, England, to go all the way." The op-ed adds, "Despite recent tournament successes, 43 percent are expecting to be most let down by… England."
An African team will swing an underdog victory
President of the Cameroonian Football Federation and soccer legend Samuel Eto'o had a more unusual prediction, telling ESPN that "Cameroon will win the World Cup final against Morocco."
"Africa has always had the potential to achieve a successful World Cup, but we haven't always shown our best face up to now," Eto'o continued. "During the years, African teams have acquired more and more experience, and I think they're ready not only to participate in a World Cup, but also to win it. I don't see why [Cameroon] can't win. I believe that to win the World Cup you don't need to be monsters or aliens, you just need good preparation, a strong mentality, and a pinch of madness."
"Many would argue that 2022 is the time to change Africa's World Cup story," Wycliffe W. Njororai Simiyu writes for The Conversation. "There's been stability in the coaching ranks and for the first time, all teams will be led by home-grown coaches on the technical bench. Looking at the pedigree of the African teams, and their respective opponents, Cameroon and Senegal stand the best chance to qualify for the second round and possibly beyond."
Oluwashina Okeleji thinks the African teams will have a challenging time, though, writing for Al Jazeera, "There has been an unmistakable glass ceiling over Africa at football World Cups ... The inability of African teams to cross this rubicon is connected to the continent's economic disadvantages relative to Europe and South America."
"According to 1994 African Footballer of the Year Emmanuel Amuneke, Senegal and Morocco represent the continent's best chance of success in the Middle East," Okeleji adds. "The challenge before Africa's representatives has never been tougher. If they are to break that glass ceiling, they will certainly have to earn it."