The greatest show on earth gets underway in Russia on Thursday as the 21st FIFA World Cup kicks-off in Moscow’s Luzhniki Stadium.
The previous 20 tournament have been won by eight different nations – with England famously claiming their solitary success back in 1966.
But how far can Gareth Southgate’s current crew get this time around? Can they match the heroic efforts of 52 years ago – or will there be a case of (yet) another hard-luck story….?
Our journalists have sat down over a beer to discuss the tournament and give us their predictions. As per usual, there’s a few outlandish thoughts….
Who will win the World Cup?
James: England! Just kidding, my money is on Spain this year, though the manager fiascocould have been handled a million times better…
Oli: About an hour before the time of making this prediction I would have said Spain, but the turmoil in the camp cannot be ignored. For that reason, I’ll do the old switcheroo to Germany.
Matt: Brazil. They have a strong squad on paper and look worthy favourites.
Samuel (work experiencer): My gut instinct says Brazil – they have world class players in every area of the pitch, and have a point to prove after the debacle against Germany in 2014.
And what about the other contenders?
Oli: France, Belgium, Brazil and Argentina all have great squads on paper, but all have a huge weight of expectation and Germany may have an advantage based purely on how long the core of their squad has been together.
Matt: France’s squad looks good on paper, while Germany have had a poor run of results in the build up, but they will both be hard to beat.
Samuel: Spain, France and Germany all have strong squads, whilst Argentina can never be ruled out.
James: I’d back France to reach the final. Usual suspects too for me too… Brazil, Germany…
Do you have a dark horse?
Matt: Are Portugal classed as dark horses at 25/1? They have a great team ethic and will definitely make the quarter-finals.
Samuel: The quality of Croatia’s midfield makes me think they can do well. I also think Egypt will get out of their group if Mohamed Salah is fit and influential.
James: Denmark might do OK…and I’d not say it’s impossible for Tunisia getting out of our group. I’ve read some journalists claiming they are the best African team in the tournament!
Oli: I look at Croatia’s squad and think that it’s about time they had a decent run, but in terms of a shock, I have a funny feeling Colombia will get to at least the quarter-finals.
Which team will suffer the biggest disappointment / fail to impress?
Samuel: Switzerland. They’ll be hoping to reach the knockout stages but I think Serbia will pip them to second behind Brazil.
James: Russia for me! I can’t believe they’re as short as 14/1. Honestly, they’re absolutely crap!
Oli: Argentina. They have the individual talent, but for some reason I fancy them to be disappointed.
Matt: Russia look to have it all on to qualify from the group. Croatia may well struggle too.
And who are you backing to win the Golden Boot?
James: Probably Neymar! I do like Isco at 50/1 though for a long shot…
Oli: Ra ra Rasputin, England’s got a goal machine. It’s Harry Kane and he’s gonna score (more than anyone else). Seriously though, Timo Werner at 14s is a decent shout.
Matt: I think Panama could be the tournament whipping boys and Belgium’s Eden Hazard may well fill his boots in the group game against them. So at 40/1 he looks a contender for a team expected to go deep into the tournament.
Samuel: Romelu Lukaku is in with a shout, depending on how Belgium do. Neymar will be another strong contender if he plays at his peak.
How far will England get?
Oli: I want to say all the way, but I can honestly see Colombia doing a job on us in the last 16.
Matt: The last eight will probably be the end for the Three Lions.
Samuel: No further than the quarter finals, where it looks like they’d face Germany. Getting past the Round of 16 might even be a struggle, as potential opponents Poland and Colombia have some big players who could do damage.
James: Quarter-finals for me. Lack of quality in midfield will ultimately see us fall short, but no reason we can’t get out the group!
Who will win the award for player of the tournament?
Matt: Neymar and Lionel Messi are sure to be named on the shortlist. Neymar will get the vote though with Brazil likely to go further in the tournament.
Samuel: It could be a surprise name, but I’d back Neymar and Antoine Griezmann to be electrifying.
James: Neymar. Predictable I know! He’s fresh after his lay-off.
Oli: Timo Werner. This is his breakout tournament…
Any thoughts on who will come back from Russia as a major star?
Samuel: Already a well-known name, but I think this is a big stage for Spain’s Saul Niguez to seriously impress, at his first senior international tournament.
James: Much is being made of Aleksandr Golovin. It’s hard as there’s not really such a thing as uncut diamonds these days, such is football’s coverage.
Oli: There’s only one man for me: Huddersfield’s Aaron Mooy! I’m serious…
Matt: Argentina’s Cristian Pavon is an exciting talent and the forward may well surprise a few from the bench.
And England’s star man?
James: Marcus Rashford certainly has the ability. He needs to start though…
Oli: Quite a bit of the attention has been deflected away from Dele Alli so he could do well, but I will say Harry Kane based on him being a flat-track bully in the groups.
Matt: I think Raheem Sterling may well propel himself into world-class status.
Samuel: It’s hard to see past Harry Kane in terms of quality, but one of the ‘squad’ players could have an impact from the bench. I can see Jamie Vardy coming on to score an important goal or two.
If you can’t watch live, follow the World Cup via TEAMtalk’s Live Centre – it has live commentary, the latest betting odds and all the latest match photos….
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