2018 World Cup Predictions: Experts' Picks for Champions, Golden Boot, and Golden Ball
32 teams and thousands of their fans will descend on Russia this summer while millions watch from the comfort of their homes as the 2018 FIFA World Cup kicks off on 14 June.
Most of the top leagues in Europe failed to live up to expectations this season and therefore there is a palpable excitement that the World Cup will offer fans something the club season did not.
A number of top teams are in with a shot to win it this time. And Sportskeeda's in-house team members had their take on who could go all the way.
Predictions give you scope to be one of two things – hopeful, or logical. Here I’m going to indulge in a bit of both.
Logically thinking, my final four are France, Brazil, Spain, and Germany – powerhouses the lot of them; squads filled with winners and trained by coaches who know how to get things done. And I’d predict a Brazil vs Germany final – at least to see whether the Brazilians can avenge the nightmare of Belo Horizonte if nothing else.
On the other hand, I crave a touch of adventure and madness – that would see a Portugal vs Argentina quarter-final (just to watch the world lose its collective minds when Ronaldo and Messi shake each other’s hands in competitive international duty) I’d pip Portugal to win, simply because they are a better collective unit – and they’d go onto face Brazil.
At the other end of the draw, Colombia could stun everyone, including Germany, to reach the semis where they’d beat Spain through a dash of James Rodrigues flair to set up an all South American final clash.
In both scenarios, though, my winner’s Brazil.
Golden Ball: Neymar
Golden Boot: Falcao
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This World Cup is one to look forward to as there are no clear favourites. It's almost as if the playing field has been levelled considering the overflowing cup of talent in so many squads.
As long as we don't see any shock upsets in the group stages (à la Les Bleus in 2002), the top teams will make it to the Round of 16 where things will start to get tasty and the real competition begins. I predict France, Brazil, Spain, and Germany to top their respective groups so that they avoid each other until they get to the semi-finals.
This is where France's squad depth and talent could come good and I suspect they will beat Neymar and co in the semi-final (sorry they don't meet in the final, dear Michel Platini). In the other half of the draw, Germany will meet Spain and I believe Die Mannschaft have the organisation and guile to get past La Furia Roja. My prediction is Brazil beating Spain for third place.
In the final, my bet is on the flair and sheer athleticism of this fearless France to beat Germany and lift the World Cup for the second time.
Golden Ball: Isco
Golden Boot: Antoine Griezmann (even though some of his goal celebrations are cringe-worthy)
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'Eu sou Brasileiro’. In spirit. Dismiss this as an astrologer’s tall tale but the talent at the Selecao’s disposal is undeniable.
They are drawn in the group with Serbia, Switzerland and Costa Rica. Expect at least two of them to be given a hiding by the Canarinhas. Once they break out of the group, they could face either Sweden or Mexico. That shouldn’t be a problem.
Beyond that, Tite’s men could face either Belgium or England. Now Belgium will be a tough nut to crack but Brazil has the looks of a bloody sledgehammer. And England is England.
In the semi-finals, I expect Brazil to come up against the French team that’s packed to the rafters with talented individuals. That’ll be one glorious fist fight but I expect them to make it to the final raring for vengeance against ze Germans.
But let’s take the tower and get that eagle vision.
Colombia’s got more gains and that’s saying something after their exploits in Rio. Spain’s sourced more silk and nobody’s surprised. Germany looks just as Germany as Germany has always done. Then there’s Messi and an iffy Portugal.
But come what may, post-July 15th, it will be, Brazil, la la la la la la la la…
Golden Boot: Neymar Jr.
Golden Ball: Isco
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The World Cup never ceases to amaze and I honestly think that there are a few surprise results in the knockout stages waiting to happen. Argentina have suffered the heartbreak of losing the World Cup final and then two Copa America finals in three sequential years - 2014, 2015 and 2016.
Now, their squad has been heavily dependent on Lionel Messi, but if three final defeats doesn’t make you stronger as a unit, I don’t know what will. The Germans beat Argentina in the 2014 final but Joachim Low’s side just don’t have the same feel about them like last time.
They had the likes of Philipp Lahm, Bastian Schweinsteiger, Miroslav Klose and Per Mertesacker; players with an aura. While the squad is pretty talented this time as well, I feel they just don’t have the same ingredients.
Brazil and France are again two sides brimming with talent. So much so that even their second string sides can challenge the best international teams. But Argentina with Lionel Messi, arguably at the peak of his prowess in terms of goalscoring and creativity, could take his side to World Cup glory.
On their way to lifting the title, I expect Argentina to beat Spain, Germany, and Brazil. Bold call? Ladies and Gentlemen, they have Messi. Lionel Messi.
Golden Boot: Neymar
Golden Ball: Kylian Mbappe
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You cannot have a World Cup without drama, can you? Last edition’s hosts Brazil are expected to make it to the knockouts pretty easily. In fact, I expect Brazil to go all the way and win the damn thing.
The squad is well-balanced, unlike last time, and though there are a few fans that feel this team could be toothless without Neymar, the likes of Roberto Firmino, Gabriel Jesus, and Philippe Coutinho have shown this season that they can step up.
Add the likes of Casemiro and Fernandinho to the mix – players who are well-drilled defensively – and the Samba could be hard to stop.
If we’re talking about squads and ability, France, Belgium, and Germany are three teams we can’t leave out. The three have some of the most exciting young players in the world right now. I expect Germany and France to make it to the semi-finals.
Argentina are likely to face Spain in the quarters if everything goes according to plan and Julen Lopetegui’s side might just have too much quality for last edition’s finalists. Sorry Leo, no World Cup for you this time either.
I’m also making a bold call here and saying Morocco will knock out Cristiano Ronaldo’s Portugal in the group stages. Yes, Amine Harit to take the mantle from Cristiano Ronaldo, ladies and gentlemen!
Golden Boot: Neymar
Golden Ball: Andres Iniesta
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Going by the sheer amount of talent that's going to be on display, I can safely put my money on the fact that the World Cup is going to be an absolute cracker. I personally feel that France, Brazil, Argentina, and Germany will be the four semi-finalists at the end of the month-long extravaganza, i.e. France vs Brazil and Argentina vs Germany.
In the first, France's depth could prove to be their greatest asset after what promises to be a weary campaign. Yet, somehow, my instincts seem to tell me that old-horses Brazil, led by Neymar's flamboyance, might just trump Didier Deschamps' French side to proceed to the final.
In the other mouth-watering semi-final, all eyes will be on one man, as usual. Lionel Messi. Now, Argentina's last three knock-outs at the World Cup have been at the hands of the Germans who visibly seem to have the Albiceleste's number.
Something tells me that Argentina might just reverse the tide this time around and trump the ever-precise Germans and make it to the final. Brazil vs Argentina is certainly fitting of a final if nothing else. However, you can almost sense that Messi is going to be out for blood.
Yes, he's had a sensational season. Yes, he has been pretty unstoppable all season. Naturally, he'll look to cap it off by winning the one trophy he craves most. Again, instinctively, I believe that in this mother of all fixtures, the master may just overcome the student - Messi's Argentina to beat Neymar's Brazil to become world champions.
Golden Boot: Lionel Messi
Golden Ball: Neymar
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The World Cup provides me the perfect opportunity to allow myself to deviate from the eternally binding law of vowing your support for one, and only one, particular football team. In 2002, it was obviously Brazil, France in 2006, Spain in 2010 and Argentina in 2014. Oddly for the first time in over a decade and a half, I find my loyalties still firmly with the G.O.A.T. and his quest to attain immortality.
However, once I was asked to stake my reputation on it I chose to fold and decided to play it safe.
I love the look of almost all teams and that gets me genuinely giddy about this summer. The last edition wasn't exactly a classic to be honest - with teams comprising of players either drawing towards the end of their careers or too young to rise to the occasion. Germany were clear favorites and everyone saw it coming from a mile away.
Anything but, this time around. Brazil, Spain, Belgium, and France all looking simply irresistible, at least on paper, as each of these nations looks like a more cohesive unit on the pitch, sprinkled with some undeniable talent. Even England look infused with vigor, passion, and patches of talent. But then again, England.. So..
Argentina let a chance of a generation pass them by without helping their greatest gift to football since Diego Maradona win the biggest prize in the game, and should, by all intents and purposes, struggle to better their last showing in the competition. Or even match it.
Also going to stick my neck out and say that both Portugal and Colombia are going to find it extremely difficult in Russia. Their exploits in France and Brazil respectively exceeded expectations. In Russia, they won't.
Yeah, obviously, Brazil to more than make up for the humiliation of four years ago by beating Germany in the final. Sweet revenge in the offing and way too many unbelievably talented match-winners to not bet your house on one of them coming up trumps at different stages as the tournament plays out.
Will still be rooting for Leo though. Have to.
Golden Boot: Antoine Griezmann
Golden Ball: Neymar Jr.
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