Paul Merson's 5 bold predictions for the 2022 FIFA World Cup 

The FIFA World Cup has several impressive teams
The FIFA World Cup has several impressive teams

England will play their first game at the 2022 FIFA World Cup today, and I'm looking forward to it. I haven't thought about the World Cup for the last four weeks because of the Premier League, but I'm now quite excited.

Yesterday's opening game was an example of what the gulf between the two teams could be in these games. Qatar was just not good enough yesterday. England's first match against Iran should be a fairly easy game.

If I had to pick a team for today, I'd have both Mason Mount and Bukayo Saka in my starting eleven. Saka is in better form than Phil Foden at the moment. This is where England have got a chance - their squad is deep. Saka can come off and he'll be replaced by Foden and Jack Grealish.

The streets of Qatar are playing canvas to creativity 🎨⚽️#FIFAWorldCup

Bar Harry Kane, England have like-for-like replacements for every position on the pitch. There isn't a single player that weakens the team, and their substitutes are world-class players.

In the World Cup, you don't have time to turn it around. The teams haven't been there for several weeks this time, and it will come down to who has the best players and who gels the quickest.

There are a few players who have played well in the past but are not in form at the moment. Antoine Griezmann is one of them, and he's still got a chance. He's been coming on only after the hour-mark for Atletico Madrid, and he can still play well for France.

The Team Talk 🗣From everyone up and down the country, we are behind #OurEngland 🦁🦁🦁@England | #FIFAWorldCup

With Eden Hazard, however, I'd be shocked if he rediscovered his form. He was one of the best in the world at Chelsea, and that seems like a distant memory now.

The Netherlands have some really good players, but I don't see Depay and Bergwijn scoring enough goals at the World Cup. They are not natural goalscorers, and when push comes to shove, you wouldn't wish they were in your team. I don't mean that in a horrible way, but you wouldn't pick them over Mbappe, Messi, or Harry Kane. They might blow teams away at the start, but I don't think they're strong enough going forward.

The 2022 edition of the FIFA World Cup could potentially be one of the most intriguing and unpredictable tournaments in recent history. Here are my predictions for the competition.

#1 World Cup Winners - England

England v Germany - UEFA Euro 2020: Round of 16
England v Germany - UEFA Euro 2020: Round of 16

This is the hardest prediction to make because this is going to be the most open World Cup for many a year. We usually get a four-week break before the World Cup where we see how the teams play.

Everybody's telling me that Brazil are the favourites - I haven't really watched their games. I'm not sure about Argentina as well - Lionel Messi is 34 now, and he didn't win it at 30 and 26 with better players than he has around him this year. I have a case against France as well - they have players like N'Golo Kante missing from their midfield.

I like how Spain play with the ball, and I think they could go deep into the tournament this year. They've picked a young squad and I can see where the manager's coming from. Portugal also have an all-star team, and I think they'll do well.

I'm going to be bold here and go with England to win the 2022 World Cup. Our squad is big - we could play our second eleven against our first eleven and it would be an even game. I like the group England have drawn, and I think they should finish at the top. If they do, they could be playing against Ecuador in the Round of 16, and they'll fancy their chances against France and Argentina.

#2 Surprise Package - Denmark

Denmark v Serbia - International Friendly
Denmark v Serbia - International Friendly

I would've gone with Portugal, but I don't think their squad depth is particularly surprising. People don't realise how good their squad is. With Ruben Dias, Joao Cancelo, Bruno Fernandes, Bernardo Silva, and Cristiano Ronaldo in their team, they have a genuine chance of winning the World Cup.

I think Denmark are going to be the surprise package. They've already defeated France twice this year, and they've got Christian Eriksen pulling the strings. He's an outstanding player and everything goes through him on the pitch. On hot days in Qatar, it will be hard to close people down, and players will find it difficult to get near him.

I don't see Denmark failing to get out of their group. If they beat France, they have a genuine chance of topping their group as well. They're more than just decent, and they're a team that no one pays attention to.

#3 Golden Boot Winner - Harry Kane

Tottenham Hotspur v Liverpool FC - Premier League
Tottenham Hotspur v Liverpool FC - Premier League

I've got to go with Harry Kane for the Golden Boot. He plays every minute of every game for England, and he also takes penalties. I think England are going to win the World Cup, and Kane will step up this year.

I don't think Alvaro Morata will be far off, to be honest. I love Lautaro Martinez as well - he could pull off a surprise. Enner Valencia started on fire yesterday, and he now has two goals to his name. Ecuador look decent, and if he scores two more goals in the group stage, he won't be far off.

You always have to give Messi a chance. Saudi Arabia are out of their depth at the World Cup, and Argentina could win their first game by a massive margin. If Messi or Martinez score three or four goals, they would be the frontrunners for the Golden Boot.

With Neymar, the way he dives around and falls over doesn't sit well with me. He was rolling around the pitch in 2018, and I don't know if he's changed. Everybody's saying that he's playing well, but the French league isn't particularly great. It's hard for me to judge Brazil, but they do have a good chance because they have some of the best players.

I'm going to back Harry Kane to win the Golden Boot at the World Cup. Alvaro Morata and Lautaro Martinez have an outside chance as well, and no one will expect them to be in the reckoning.

#4 Golden Ball Winner - Bruno Fernandes

Czech Republic v Portugal: UEFA Nations League - League Path Group 2
Czech Republic v Portugal: UEFA Nations League - League Path Group 2

The Player of the Tournament at the World Cup usually belongs to a team that either wins the trophy or goes deep into the competition. I haven't really thought about Belgium for this tournament - they always have an all-star team but never seem to get things done at the World Cup.

I'll go with Bruno Fernandes for the Golden Ball. If Portugal go a long way, Fernandes has the ability and the guile to be their best player. Harry Kane will get his goals, and Messi and Neymar will do extraordinary things in some of their games. I do like this Portugal team, however, and I think Bruno Fernandes will do well.

You've got to pick players that will touch the ball a lot. Everything goes through the likes of Messi and Neymar on the pitch, and they have a distinct advantage when it comes to the Golden Ball race. With England, you don't have all the play going through a single player.

When you watch Portugal play football, a lot of their play goes through Bruno Fernandes. He's started playing well for Manchester United again, and his confidence is back. With Portugal, Cristiano Ronaldo will rely on Fernandes' service. I think a lot of people will be very surprised by this Portugal team.

#5 Best Young Player (U-21) - Pedri

Spain v Switzerland: UEFA Nations League - League Path Group 2
Spain v Switzerland: UEFA Nations League - League Path Group 2

I like how Spain play with the ball, and I think they'll keep a lot of possession with Pedri in the team. Qatar will suit his style of play - it will be hot, and he'll be able to beat the press and pass it around. He's got an old head on young shoulders, and he plays with the maturity of a player in his thirties.

Bukayo Saka could also be a contender, but you wouldn't be shocked if he didn't play all of England's games. If Pedri has a bad 45 minutes, he'd still play the following week. That's not the case with England's wingers. The reason players like Messi, Kane, Mbappe, and Neymar have won many of these awards is that they play every game.

Spain will go deep into the tournament. I watched them against Portugal - if Morata hits form, they will score a lot of goals. As a youngster, Pedri will be playing every game for Spain at the World Cup. I've got to go with him as the best young player in the tournament.

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Edited by Paul Merson
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