Destiny is in your hands. Play the Opta Million World Cup Bracket Challenge – predict your bracket correctly and you could win $1 million. To give you an idea of how you could fill out your Opta Million bracket, Graham Bell takes us through his own predictions about what he expects will happen at the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.
The Elephant in the Room
Will my World Cup simulator help you win $1 million? Probably not.
After all, I’m the person who boldly predicted that only four managers would be sacked in the Premier League during the 2022-2023 season.
And that Julian Alvarez might win the Premier League golden boot.
And each week proudly showcase how our supercomputer predictor believes that Arsenal will lose, yet here they are sat at the top of the Premier League table.
Mystic Meg I’m probably not.
But the World Cup is all about redemption. Think Ronaldo 2002. Think Beckham 2002 (other World Cups also apply).
So, I’ve fired up our World Cup 2022 simulator game and this is how I see the tournament playing out.
World Cup Simulation: The Group Stage
- Potential for surprise results, but the main players go through
- More group stage heartache for South Korea
- Qatar delight home fans with qualification
There’s nothing that quite beats the buzz of a FIFA World Cup tournament, but that will take on a unique flavour this time around.
Without the month-long build up to the event, most players won’t be in the country until a week before the tournament, meaning preparation is going to be congested. Any races against fitness will be tightened and chances of proving form few and far between.
As a result, it’s my belief this tournament will favour those sides who have been able to get together early, settle on their tactics and be prepared for the biggest stage of all. It’s one of the reasons why France will fail to top Group D. With Paul Pogba and N’Golo Kante already out and a host of others doubtful, Didier Deschamps will roll the dice with his squad selection – giving spots to some who might only appear in the knockout stages. It leaves squad morale in a bind, leaving a well drilled Denmark side to top the group with the reigning champions shuffling the pack in the hope of landing big down the line.
Sadly, for South Korea it’s another World Cup that ends in group stage disappointment. Son Heung-Min sparks perhaps the biggest merchandise sale of the tournament with thousands of fans donning face masks in support of their hero which some believe is a rather unique tribute to fellow Tottenham Hotspur legend Gary Mabbutt. Unfortunately, it doesn’t cover up South Korea’s main issues, with Uruguay and Portugal advancing even if the pair do play out a badly contested affair.
It is maybe a bold selection to state that Qatar will qualify from Group A. After all, recent defeats against the likes of Canada and Croatia U23s and draws with Jamaica and Morocco ‘A’ don’t exactly scream out ‘World Cup last 16 hopefuls’. However, Felix Sanchez’s side, who won the 2019 AFC Asian Cup, should come into the tournament as one of the most prepared outfits. An opening-day victory against Ecuador sets them on their pathway with Senegal equally dispatched meaning it doesn’t matter what happens in their final test against fellow qualifiers the Netherlands, their last 16 spot secured.
It has been staggering to read some of the predictions of my fellow colleagues on here, especially when it comes to England. Granted, results haven’t been promising over the past few months and, arguably, performances also have failed to grasp the attention of a nation with the pressure seemingly building on Gareth Southgate.
All my mind is thinking back to though is this is exactly how we felt about England heading into the 2018 tournament and look how that turned out. After all, I can tell my grandkids I saw England win on penalties in a World Cup knockout stage match. A friendly group draw helps here – the Three Lions will canter through with three victories over Wales, USA and Iran in Group B, leaving me serving up lashings of humble pie at our mid-tournament get together to some of my fellow pundits.
Round of 16
- Argentina crash out to France
- Disaster also for Spain and Germany
- Hosts dream ended by Three Lions
Without a rest day between the group and knockout stages, the feast of football continues with some intriguing matchups and some matches that might have you immediately pondering if there’s better things you could be doing with your life for a while. Until the second match that is.
Yes, Argentina, the seeming darlings of my fellow pundits are out. A teary finale for Lionel Messi on the biggest stage. The elusive World Cup winners’ medal remains just that. 2022 has all the hallmarks of their 2010 performance for me. Continually written up in the press, nobody seeing where it could possibly go wrong for a side who are going to play free flowing, attacking football that’ll win the hearts and minds of fans across the globe.
In 2010, it was a dismantling at the hands of Germany that proved the road block – this time, it’s France who have begun to get their act together after a rocky group stage performance.
It’s also the end of the World Cup road for the Iberian Peninsula. For Eden Hazard, the jibes over his fitness and body shape proves the only driving factor he needs as he produces the sort of performance that has been lacking since moving to the Bernabeu in 2019 as Belgium cruise past Spain, whilst the powers of Cristiano Ronaldo aren’t enough to overcome a Brazil side who don’t seem to have got out of first gear so far in the tournament, a worrying sign for those around them.
In the other half of the draw, some early fireworks from Qatar are dampened by an England side who seem emboldened as the tournament progresses. But they’ll be wary of what they face next, a well-drilled Mexico outfit who made the most of a pre-tournament training camp in Spain to get settled under the heavily criticised Tata Martino following their disappointing defeat in the final of the 2021 CONCACAF Gold Cup. They finally broke the curse of successive round of 16 departures at the eighth time of asking against Denmark.
In the battle of experience against youth, Croatia ensured that Luka Modric’s swansong (which had been entirely forgotten about until Messi and Ronaldo’s departure from the tournament!) would continue although Germany depart with plenty more positives than expected with some of their outstanding young talent putting them on the pathway to success, beginning on home soil with the 2024 UEFA European Championship whilst Africa’s hopes in the World Cup ended as Cameroon fall at the hands of Uruguay.
- Mexico outlast England
- France the last European hope
For England, this is the game that should have been a walkover, at least according to a fervent press. But Mexico is buoyed by their first quarter-final appearance since 1986 and set about causing problems for Gareth Southgate’s side. It isn’t pretty, but effective.
The game drags along into extra-time and then the dreaded penalty shootout. Raul Jimenez proves himself the hero and immediately hands in a transfer request to Wolves, knowing the vitriol that will await his return to the Premier League.
Meanwhile, the media will turn on England. One paper will try to make a “Southgate is Tostadas” pun as he finally bows out from the role. Meanwhile Baddiel and Skinner start work on a 60 years of hurt version of Three Lions.
Elsewhere, it’s also the end of the road for Croatia as Uruguay’s Ying-and-yang forward pairing of Luis Suarez and Darwin Nunez pull apart 2018’s best defender Dejan Lovren (at least in his own mind), leaving him chasing shadows across the pitch.
For France, the extra day off between their games proves crucial with Deschamps left in a bit of a quandary. Key players are beginning to return to full fitness, but the team that has been on the pitch so far have performed more than adequately. The rumours of squad disruption begin to grow, but Deschamps sticks to his guns for now, playing those that have got them through so far. He’s rewarded with a dominant performance against the Netherlands, although the seemingly muted goal celebrations from the substitutes bench suggest harmony might be an issue, with Brazil awaiting as they avenge the heartache of 2018 against Belgium.
- Lashing at Lusail as Brazil batter France
- Mexico block repeat of 1950 final
Readers will note that I haven’t mentioned much about Brazil during my World Cup simulation so far. And there is a simple reason for that. Until this point, they’ve been good without being great.
But now they want to send a message. The hurt of 2014 lives on. And having banished one demon in the last round, they set about doing the same again here. From the off against France, their attacking prowess shines through as time and time again they find a route through to Hugo Lloris’ goal and, more importantly, start to build a resounding lead.
Deschamps begins to cut a frustrated figure. He had stuck with those who had served him well so far, but they are beginning to crumble. It’s 3-0 after 30 minutes and something needs to change. He looks behind him at the substitutes bench. These are the players that were supposed to lead them to World Cup glory, but now they are hiding. A roll of the dice at half-time changes nothing, it ends 6-0 – Neymar with a hat-trick, highlighted by a quick fleeting glance at Kylian Mbappé at the end. The battle here might be over but the fight in Paris will continue, maybe resulting in one of them making a move to La Liga once the dust finally settled after another UEFA Champions League heartache.
And having stifled England in the previous round, Mexico set out to do the same again although the attacking threat of Uruguay proves a much harder task to nullify. But as the game remains goalless, the frustration grows with Guillermo Ochoa repelling every chance. It takes just one mistake defensively, but Mexico get their chance, their high press resulting in yet another high turnover. Hirving Lozano makes it count. There’s no need for extra-time and penalties this time, Mexico, who came into the World Cup sitting 13th in FIFA’s World Rankings, are in their first ever World Cup final.
- A sixth World Cup for Brazil
By the final, Mexico’s game plan for the tournament is well known. Defend resolutely, press wherever possible, hit opponents with devastating counterattacks and try to make the most of whatever limited chances they get in front of goal. And for ten minutes of the final, this works to perfection.
Then Brazil score.
Mexico haven’t faced this threat in the knockout stages, that of having to come from behind. They begin to panic. And move away from what has worked for so long.
Brazil score again.
The World Cup final is over as a spectacle within 25 minutes. And although Mexico stop the game from fully running away from them – there’s nothing they can do the drag the score line back. It took them a while to get fully going but once they did, Brazil proved themselves the unstoppable force in the tournament.
Meanwhile, in the third-place playoff, Deschamps reverts to the line-up he had planned to play all tournament. Including some of the troublemakers. And their response, a French demolition of Uruguay. The ultimate ‘we said you should have played us’.
Who knows? Maybe this madcap simulation might come off. But do you think you know how Qatar 2022 will play out? Take part in the Opta Million and you could win $1,000,000. To help you out, here are the groups that you’ll need to get in the correct finishing order. Good luck.
The 2022 World Cup Groups
Group A: Qatar, Ecuador, Senegal, Netherlands
Group B: England, Iran, United States, Wales
Group C: Argentina, Saudi Arabia, Mexico, Poland
Group D: France, Australia, Denmark, Tunisia
Group E: Spain, Costa Rica, Germany, Japan
Group F: Belgium, Canada, Morocco, Croatia
Group G: Brazil, Serbia, Switzerland, Cameroon
Group H: Portugal, Ghana, Uruguay, South Korea