all manner of preview content ahead of the tournament. And now, it’s time for the final stroke, the ultimate entry, our predictions for who’s going to hoist the trophy in a month’s time.
Shahan Ahmed: Brazil over Argentina
Brazil hasn’t won the World Cup since 2002, and 16 years without a Brazilian World Cup victory means they’re due. Sure, winning on European soil is problematic for South American sides, but every single expected starter and key sub for Brazil plays club football in Europe. The depth, talent and sharpness displayed by the national team, along with the added incentive to make up for the embarrassment that was 2014, makes the Selecao the right pre-tournament pick. This team is better, deeper and more balanced that the 2014 edition, and Tite’s CONMEBOL qualifying campaign provided enough evidence to believe in him as a manager and Brazil as a team. Lionel Messi and Argentina losing in the final may be cruel, but at this point, it’s what they do. They’re the modern version of the Netherlands.
Ryan Bailey: Germany over France
I know, it seems a little trite to pick the Germans as champions at this point. And there are several reasons why they may falter. Their goalkeeper might not be 100 percent fit, their defense is not watertight, they haven’t looked incredible in recent outings, and it’s been over half a century since a team managed to win back-to-back World Cups. But who are we kidding here? The Germans are a tournament team who have very few weaknesses, and who will not be daunted by any opposition they face. I believe they and France will win their respective groups, keeping them on opposite sides of the draw until the final. The French have one of the most talented and exciting squads, which is capable of a very deep run — provided it can avoid mutiny and self-implosion. Which really should be a minimum expectation! Oh, and the Golden Boot race could be a shoot-off between Kylian Mbappe and Timo Werner.
Alex Baker: Germany over Brazil
Henry Bushnell: Brazil over Spain
Brazil is the most likely champion, according to the predictive measures, percentages, etc. They have the best balance of talent, tradition and structure, and they have a superstar in Neymar who can drag them through a round or two even when things don’t go their way. (See: Messi the entire 2014 tournament for Argentina.) But the other half of my prediction is what really intrigues me. If you think back to the 2006, 2010 and 2014 World Cup finals, you remember, frankly, a lot of ugly soccer. A lot of grinding, a lot of exhausted play, a lot of physicality mucking things up. Portugal has Ronaldo, whom I consider the second-best player of all time, and there’s talent around him. But they won the European title two summers ago by playing ugly, and I just don’t know why the formula would change overnight. They’ll win their group with Spain suddenly plunged into turmoil, and they’ll scrape their way to the final, but Brazil will ultimately be too much.
Doug McIntyre: Argentina over Spain
Leander Schaerlaeckens: France over Belgium
This French team might be the most talented team they’ve ever produced. And that’s saying a lot for the France program. They also have a habit of self-destructing, but I think that they’ve got a good mix on this team, and that they’ll be able to put it together. It’s no secret that Belgium has been really talented and really promising for a long time now. But they’ve never quite gotten over the hump. I think they will at this World Cup. But ultimately, I don’t think they’ll be able to beat France in the title game.
2018 World Cup preview hub
• 2018 World Cup contenders, tiered and ranked 1-32
• How will Russia’s many problems affect the World Cup?
• Ranking the top 100 players at the World Cup
• FC Yahoo Mixer: The Ronaldo vs. Messi debate