World Cup predictions: DI sports predicts the World Cup 2022 group stage

The+Original+FIFA+World+Cup+Trophy+is+on+display+for+one+day+only+during+the+FIFA+World+Cup+Trophy+Tour+in+East+Rutherford+on+Nov.+8.

Photo courtesy of Julian Leshay/TNS

The Original FIFA World Cup Trophy is on display for one day only during the FIFA World Cup Trophy Tour in East Rutherford on Nov. 8.

By Sports Staff

In just a few short days, the World Cup is officially back. Just four years, an international pandemic and many criticisms involving the host country later, the 2022 World Cup officially lands in Qatar, which is the first time the country has hosted or qualified for the competition.

The stakes surrounding this year’s competition are higher than ever. With two GOAT candidates leading the lines of some of the favored nations, along with countries looking to end 50-plus-year-long trophy droughts, this year’s World Cup should make for incredible casual viewing.

Whether you’re watching purely because your team qualified for the first time in eight years — I’m looking at you Americans — or just as casual viewing amidst the holiday break period, our staff has you covered on some of the top storylines to look for in each group moving forward.

Here are our World Cup 2022 group stage picks:

Group A – Theo Gary

There’s always that one group, isn’t there? The group where you remember that everyone is cheating and the whole thing is kind of rigged. The group with the brutal dictator host and cast of countries where no casual can name more than one player. Yeah, that’s Group A.

If you remember 2018 (how long ago was that?), you’ll stumble on that year’s Group A. A motley crew of Russia (host country, strong doping allegations), Saudi Arabia (who lost 5-0 to the aforementioned Russians), Egypt (missing Mohamed Salah) and Uruguay (advanced to quarter-finals). Not exactly a group full of world-beaters. Now, in 2022, Group A boasts the same mix of host, two mediocre teams and one major power. 

Senegal, by all accounts, should have been a knockout sort of team. Sadio Mané, Kalidou Koulibaly and Édouard Mendy are all names that fans of European football will recognize. But Senegal will be without Mané, their top goal scorer and 2022 Ballon d’Or runner-up. 

It’s never smart to make predictions for a tournament like this, so I will just give you my vibe. Senegal is solid, functional, has talent, but is missing Mané. Will they advance? I get that vibe. Will they make it past the round of 16? I don’t get that vibe.

Qatar — bad vibes. Bad vibes all around. I get the impression that the Qatar federation is playing from in front of a loaded gun more than they are for love of country or patriotism or whatever. This team is only here because their country that used slave labor to make the competition happen at all bought in from the hilariously corrupt, inept and bumbling Sepp Blatter. I don’t get the vibe they advance from the group or even draw a game. Where morality is concerned, let’s certainly hope they don’t.

Ecuador — good vibes. Ecuador could be super fun; they could light it up with goals and even become the people’s team of the tournament. They could also flop, two draws and a loss. No upsets. These seem equal possibilities. Good vibes and fun vibes.

Netherlands — grind-it-out vibes. If you remember the last World Cup the orange crew participated in, you’ll remember they came within penalty kicks of advancing to the final of that tournament. Louis van Gaal, the same manager from eight years ago, is back again and seemingly interested in playing another tournament of boring, winning football. Vibes are successful but not fun. 

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Group B – Adam Rosen

Group B has plenty of storylines, as 2021 European runner-ups England are the clear favorites to win the group, while the United States are projected to place second, ahead of Wales and Iran.

England has by far the best roster in the group, with superstars like Harry Kane, Marcus Rashford and Jude Bellingham. United States, who missed out in 2018 after an embarrassing end to the qualifiers, is headlined by young phenoms Christian Pulisic, Weston McKennie and Giovanni Reyna. Wales is led by veterans Gareth Bale and Aaron Ramsey. Iran is led by Mehdi Taremi. 

For the United States, the roster has had a lot of controversial selections, as striker Ricardo Pepi was not included, much to the shock of the fans. The biggest question mark will be the defense as well as the number nine role, as probable starter Josh Sargent seldom played with this squad during the qualifying stages.

England will bring one of the most versatile squads, as they are young, experienced and uber-talented. Not only are they the favorite to win the group, but they are one of the favorites to win the entire tournament. Gareth Southgate, however, has faced criticism for his roster selections, such as leaving Ivan Toney at home while he is in great form for Brentford.

The likely outcome for the group, at least what I expect, is as follows:

England 3-0-0

USA 2-0-1

Wales 1-0-2

Iran 0-0-3

I expect England to sweep the group, while the United States should win against Iran and Wales while losing to England. 

However, I will likely be wrong, because Gregg Berhalter and Southgate are two of the most inconsistent managers in the sport.

@arrosen76

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Group C – Jonathan Alday

Argentina: The million-dollar question for Argentina ahead of the World Cup: Do they have enough to give Lionel Messi a World Cup title in his final tournament? Despite the odds being in their favor after championing both the Copa América and CONMEBOL-UEFA Cup of Champions, there are plenty of opportunities to slip in the group with capable scorers in Poland’s Robert Lewandowski and Hirving “Chucky” Lozano for Mexico on Argentina’s docket. While the favorites to win the group, their prospects to do much more after that will be in question as Messi will be asked to carry his country one last time. 

Saudi Arabia: Saudi Arabia will make another appearance in the World Cup and was given a tough group drawing. Historically, the Saudis have had no real success in World Cup matches. However, like any international squad, they have potential to cause a surprise upset if a team overlooks them, but they are still highly unlikely to make it out of group stages. In addition, Qatar’s nearby location to Saudi Arabia could prove to have a solid fanbase

Mexico: Oh Mexico, my Mexico. For so long you’ve given heartbreaking exit after heartbreaking exit. The 2022 squad, which has some superstars, is underwhelming in comparison to previous ones. Regardless, Guillermo “Memo” Ochoa continues to provide out-of-this-world performances in goal while rising star Lozano continues to pave his way into the football world. Mexico will face off head-to-head with Poland early in a match that may decide who goes on to the round of 16.

Poland: Robert Lewandoski has been the crown jewel of Poland football for years. However, the 34-year-old captain has yet to score a goal at the World Cup. The Polish national team has not made it out of the group stages since 1986 and will face a tough challenge in fending off World Cup regular Mexico for the top two spots.

I have Argentina and Mexico taking the group, with the rest up in the air.

@JonathanAlday7

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Group D – James Kim

When it comes to seemingly straightforward groups (at least on paper), Group D is certainly among those at this year’s World Cup. Boasting two top 10 teams in the world according to the current FIFA men’s rankings, it’s difficult to envision France or Denmark failing to make it out of this group.

However, anything is possible, and all eyes will be on France, the team that won it all back in Russia during the 2018 World Cup. Will the World Cup winner’s curse strike again? In case you’re unaware, there’s been a trend in recent World Cups where the previous winners exit in the group stage of the next tournament.

Football powerhouse countries such as France, Italy, Spain and, most recently, Germany have all fallen victim to the curse. The current defending champions France certainly have the personnel to avoid this upset, but whether they will end up suffering from their own success remains to be seen.

The French boast huge names including Karim Benzema, Kylian Mbappé and Hugo Lloris to name a few, though among the notable omissions are N’Golo Kanté and Paul Pogba. Kanté in particular is a big loss in the middle of the pitch, as the midfielder is instrumental to whatever team he plays in. Regardless, France enters the tournament as one of the favorites to win it all, and if the squad enters confident and in-form, there’s a chance they don’t drop a single point in this group. I see them winning Group D.

Denmark has been hailed as a sort of ‘dark horse’ team coming to Qatar. The Danish captivated the world at Euro 2020, where after a scary Christian Eriksen heart injury, the team rallied and went on an incredible run that reached the semi-finals. A lot of the leaders from that team have been called up once again, and Eriksen will be returning as well. While not exactly title contenders like France, Denmark will still aim to make a significant run at the World Cup and are a team to watch as the tournament unfolds. I see them finishing second in Group D.

Tunisia and Australia are toss-ups for me. I don’t predict either will be able to make it out of the group, especially if France and Denmark play to the level that they’re capable of. Anything is possible in football, however, and that’s the beauty of it. You never know, maybe one of the two countries will shock the world! I’m still placing them at the bottom of Group D.

First: France
Second: Denmark
Third: Tunisia
Fourth: Australia

@james_kim15

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Group E – Martin O’Connor

Finally, four long years have passed, and we now find ourselves a week away from the start of the 2022 World Cup in Qatar. Lineups have been selected, stadiums are prepped and ready, anticipation has grown all over the world, but only one team can walk away with the glorious FIFA World Cup trophy.

Taking a deeper look at Group E in this tournament, it is clear there are two favorites to win the final. That being said however, Group E is the closest to a “group of death,” and anyone can walk out of this group on top. My personal opinion is that it will be Germany topping Group E while Spain finishes second. I then see Japan finishing third and Costa Rica finishing fourth.

After the last World Cup where Germany did not even make it out of the group stage, they will be looking to redeem themselves this year. Their mix in the team between older veterans like Manuel Neuer and Thomas Müller and wonder kids like Jamal Musiala and Youssoufa Moukoko will provide a nice balance against the different opponents they face. Hansi Flick’s squad selection is a nostalgic one as well, bringing back Mario Götze, the man who won the World Cup for Germany back in 2014.

Spain looks to be another promising side but will lack the clinical aspect needed up top. After surprisingly leaving David De Gea, arguably one of the best goalkeepers in the world, off the provisional squad for the World Cup, it’ll be interesting to see who Luis Enrique has in mind for the starting goalie position. If things begin to click, Spain could easily make a deep run out in Qatar.

After an impressive 2018 World Cup, Japan will look to surpass their round of 16 showing, but with two international powerhouses in the same group, Germany and Spain, that will be hard to do.

Lastly, I predict that Costa Rica will take last in this group. Just eight years ago, they were competing in the quarter-finals against the Dutch, a game they ended up losing on penalties. Unfortunately, their golden generation has come and gone. Players like Keylor Navas, Joel Campbell and Bryan Ruiz have gotten old and aren’t the same as they used to be all those years ago. This combined with the inexperience of the rest of Costa Rica’s squad means that I don’t see them finishing anywhere except last in the group.

Group E: first Germany, second Spain, third Japan, fourth Costa Rica

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Group F – Ben Fader

This group is seemingly up for grabs and should feature more than a couple of competitive matches. To start, Croatia and Belgium finished second and third respectively in the 2018 tournament, and both countries have their sights set on reaching that level again. Morocco and Canada are not World Cup regulars like the other two, but the Canadians in particular have the ability to make some noise this year.

Our friends to the north qualified for just the second time in World Cup history and earned their way to Qatar with some convincing victories, including a 2-0 win over the United States. The competing countries boast some top-tier talent to be featured, starting with Kevin De Bruyne, a 31-year-old midfielder from Belgium. He’s a veteran who can score and create for his teammates. If De Bruyne can have a solid tournament, look for Belgium to advance far once again. 

Luka Modrić is another stud midfielder participating in this group, and it will be the final World Cup for the 37-year-old. Modrić has made a name for himself with Real Madrid and during Croatia’s run to the final in 2018 and has been elite for a while. Additionally, the midfielder was awarded the Ballon d’Or for his role in Croatia’s 2018 run.

Alphonso Davies has emerged as a top player for the men up north, despite the fullback still being a child compared to De Bruyne and Modrić. The 21-year-old already has a CONCACAF player of the year award under his belt and anchors the Canadian defense. 

While Morocco seems to be the worst of the bunch, they bring some good talent too. Hakim Ziyech has been a goalscorer for Chelsea for several years now, and if he gets an opportunity, he could deliver some quick strikes for a team that will need it. 

My pick to advance from Group F is Belgium first and a strong second-place finish from Canada. The rest is up in the air, and I look forward to seeing it play out!

@benfader7

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Group G – Conor Blount

Group G is a near replica of 2018’s Group E, as Brazil, Serbia and Switzerland will once again be duking it out with the addition of Cameroon in place of Costa Rica. Last time around, Brazil took the group in convincing fashion while Switzerland managed to edge out Serbia and Costa Rica despite only winning one match. 

As far as the top spot of Group G is concerned, it will almost certainly be much of the same with Brazil being favored to win the entire competition. While their notorious 7-1 loss in the 2014 semi-finals remains shocking to this day, I believe a history of excellence, top to bottom depth, and star power will all work in Brazil’s favor this World Cup.

I believe Serbia has the most compelling case for claiming Group G’s second elimination spot due to how close they were in 2018. Finishing two points behind Switzerland, the Swiss’ 90th-minute goal to put them ahead in their match against Serbia ended up being the deciding factor. A nation fueled by a near miss in 2018 combined with a dangerous group of forwards in Dušan Vlahović, Aleksandar Mitrović and Luka Jović has my bet for taking second place in Group G.

Although I have them ranked at third, Switzerland will not be an easy match for any of these squads. Perhaps lacking the names that Brazil and Serbia have, the Swiss have a consistent team top to bottom. Holding Brazil to a draw in 2018, it is believable that Switzerland could end up taking points from the two squads I have above them.

Despite the best efforts of forward Vincent Aboubakar, I believe Cameroon will simply not have enough to get it done. Having missed the 2018 World Cup entirely and not made it out of the group stage in 2014, Cameroon’s lack of recent World Cup success combined with a lackluster roster leaves them as the squad I am least excited about ahead of the 2022 World Cup.

@blountco21

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Group H – Drew Friberg

Group H, in my opinion, is the real “group of death.” Portugal, Uruguay, South Korea and Ghana each boast some of the world’s biggest stars, but more importantly, certain teams in this group have stars in excellent form.

A casual looking at the group may look back to the past, maybe Uruguay’s heroic 2010 run spearheaded by Diego Forlán, or in 2006 when Cristiano Ronaldo helped his Portugal side reach the top four. But this season, things are much different.

Ronaldo has been nothing short of unimpressive for his club this year. His performances have been awful and not fit to lead a team currently, but if you are Portugal manager Fernando Santos, who are you to drop Ronaldo in his final World Cup?

Rafael Leão is this team’s saving grace. Without the production Renato Sanches brings in midfield, and a struggling pair of forwards in Ronaldo and João Félix, Leão will need to carry a large weight with this team early on, I think.

Uruguay is the out-and-out best team in the group right now. On current form, Federico Valverde is the best midfielder in the world and has been lighting it up for Real Madrid. He has added goals to his game, while his partner in midfield Rodrigo Bentancur has been having a quietly good season for Spurs. Combine this with a veteran goalkeeper in Fernando Muslera, a born leader in Diego Godín and two of the best strikers of this generation in Luis Suárez and Edinson Cavani and you have your dark horses for the 2022 competition.

Ghana and South Korea are complete toss-ups in my mind. Ghana has the pieces to formulate a challenge for second in the group, but I just don’t see it. Tariq Lamptey, Kamal Sowah and Thomas Partey are players that start for any team in the group, but problems arise with the unbalanced and inexperienced backline. I don’t see them challenging, although they shouldn’t be taken lightly.

South Korea are the real wildcards in this group. With Son Heung-min returning from injury miraculously in time for a World Cup and Kim Min-jae leading a Napoli team that is the best in the world on current form, I see this South Korea team knocking off Portugal if they can fill in the gaps. Son needs just one chance and he’ll get on the scoresheet, but conversely, you could say the same for many of the attackers in this group.

Group predictions:

First – Uruguay

Second – South Korea

Third – Portugal

Fourth – Ghana

@DrewFriberg9

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Now that we have shared our predictions, it’s time to share yours. Let us know what you think, who we missed, who may not go far or just general predictions for the competition!

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