Destiny is in your hands. Play the Opta Million, 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, Opta Analyst’s Matt Furniss takes us through his own predictions about what he expects will happen at the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.
World Cup Bracket: The Group Stage
- England and Germany to suffer shock group stage exits.
- Japan to progress at the expense of Germany and Costa Rica.
- Brazil and Argentina to cruise through to the round of 16.
- Qatar to become just the second World Cup host nation to be knocked out in the group stage.
It feels like every World Cup in recent memory sees a shock exit by at least one of the favourites in the group stage – 2022 is likely to be no different. But which nation will be sent packing at the first hurdle?
The last three World Cup tournaments have seen seven European behemoths exit in the group stage: Germany in 2018, Spain, Italy, England and Portugal in 2014, France and Italy in 2010.
With the kickoff of this tournament slap bang in the middle of the domestic football season, and potentially seeing day-time temperatures that many European players aren’t used to (even air-conditioned stadiums might not save them), I believe there’s a strong chance it could happen again this year.
England come into the tournament on the back of a dreadful UEFA Nations League campaign. Barring any last-minute, unexpected arrangement of pre-tournament friendlies, they come into the World Cup winless in their last six games in all competitions (D3 L3), their longest run since between April and June 1993 (also six games). This is the Three Lions’ longest ever winless run going into a major tournament.
After a great summer in 2021, where they lost out on their first-ever European championship title on penalties against Italy, and a semi-final knockout in the 2018 World Cup, many England fans expected Gareth Southgate’s side to go one better at the 2022 World Cup. But they might suffer the same fate as Germany in 2018, with a group stage exit.
Southgate’s England team have struggled to look potent in attack across the last six months, and they’ll face a solid defensive unit in the form of Iran in the opening game – not the opponents you want to face on the back of a poor open-play scoring run. Fail to win that, then the second match against the United States looks even trickier before facing a Welsh side with a lot to prove. In my World Cup bracket, I predict disappointment for England in this tournament and a humiliating group stage exit, finishing third in the standings in Group B:
Germany arrived at the 2018 World Cup as reigning champions but came crashing back down to Earth just four years after winning in Brazil. The Germans – who also stuttered at times during the UNL campaign, winning just one of their six matches (W1 D4 L1) – face one of the trickiest group stages at the 2022 World Cup. The draw pits them against Spain, Japan and Costa Rica, and their opening game against the Japanese will probably decide which of those teams make it through to the round of 16.
Japan head to the 2022 World Cup with a dominant September friendly win over the United States (2-0) followed by another clean sheet in the 0-0 draw with Ecuador. They face Canada in another friendly a week before the 2022 tournament kicks off, so will look to continue a good run of form that’s seen them lose just twice in 13 matches since 12 October 2021 – those two defeats coming against a strong Brazil side (who needed a late Neymar penalty to win) and a 3-0 Kirin Cup defeat to Tunisia in June. With much of their squad reaching their peak-age years and many of them playing football in the Bundesliga, they’ll know their German counterparts well and in my World Cup bracket I predict they’ll spring a surprise in Group E.
Brazil and Argentina are the two countries that I predict will win all three of their group stage matches at Qatar 2022.
Brazil will be taking part in their 22nd World Cup tournament and are the only team to have featured in every single edition. They have won a record five World Cup titles, plus have the best win rate in World Cup matches of any side (67%, winning 73 of 109 games).
I believe Brazil will continue their fantastic group stage record, which has seen them top their group in at every World Cup since 1982 and not fail to progress past the first round since 1966. Although placed in a tricky group on paper – alongside Serbia, Switzerland and AFCON semi-finalists Cameroon – I can’t see past them winning all three matches in Group G.
Fellow South Americans Argentina – who defeated Brazil in the 2021 Copa América final – should walk through their group, having been placed alongside Saudi Arabia, Mexico and Poland. This Argentina side is special, and they are now on an unbeaten run of 35 matches under Lionel Scaloni, having not lost since the 2019 Copa América following a semi-final exit to Brazil. This run is now two off the world record of 37, set by Italy in between 2018 and 2021. I think they’ll surpass that with three successive group stage wins at Qatar 2022, making it 38 unbeaten in the final group game against Poland on 30 November.
Interestingly, since – and including – the introduction of a round of 16 at the 1986 FIFA World Cup, the subsequent winner of each edition has always topped its group at the tournament. There’s little doubt in my mind that both Argentina and Brazil will do this in 2022, so it’s a great start. There have been only four instances of teams winning 100% of their games in a World Cup tournament: Uruguay (4/4 in 1930), Italy (4/4 in 1938) and Brazil (6/6 in 1970; 7/7 in 2002). There’s a great chance Argentina could be added to this list following their success at Qatar 2022.
As for hosts Qatar, I think they’ll fall at the first hurdle – Senegal and the Netherlands will be too strong for them, and I’d even go as far as predicting they’ll finish bottom of Group A. Previous World Cup hosts have reached the second round of the competition in 20 of the previous 21 editions, with the exception being South Africa in 2010, but my view is that Qatar will be joining them in this two-team shortlist.
Round of 16
- Japan shock everyone by knocking out Belgium.
- Cristiano Ronaldo’s World Cup career comes to an end with Portugal’s defeat to Brazil.
My group stage predictions form some interesting ties in the round of 16, but none more so than Brazil versus Portugal, following the Portuguese’ failure to finish top of their group, placed behind Uruguay.
Brazil won’t have a problem sending home a talented Portuguese side, with Cristiano Ronaldo failing to finish his World Cup career with a knockout stage goal at the seventh attempt in tournament history.
Spain will knock out Croatia in their last 16 tie to set up a quarter-final clash with Brazil, while the Netherlands and Argentina will see off Iran and Denmark respectively to complete that half of the draw.
Senegal unexpectedly face the United States, following Gregg Berhalter’s USMNT’s Group B progression and knockout of England. It’ll be the African nation that will advance to the quarter-finals to face France, who beat Mexico in their last-16 tie.
Japan have already shocked the world by knocking out Germany in the group stage, and they’ll do it again in the round of 16 with their defeat of Belgium. The Asian side will advance to the quarters to face Uruguay, who seal qualifying against Serbia in their last-16 tie.
- Three South American nations advance to the semi-finals.
- Senegal suffer heartache and fail to become the first African side to reach the World Cup semi-finals.
In a repeat of the 1998 World Cup quarter-final classic, the Netherlands will face Argentina for a place in the final four. This time, Argentina will get their revenge following the 2-1 defeat in France 24 years ago – Lionel Messi will score his first-ever World Cup knockout goal in this win.
Brazil won their last meeting against Spain in the 2013 FIFA Confederations Cup final, 3-0 with Neymar amongst the scorers that day. The Brazilian superstar will help send his side onto the semi-finals with another victory over Spain in this tie.
Japan’s excellent World Cup run will come to an end with a quarter-final defeat in extra time against Uruguay, but they leave with their heads held high having gone further than ever before in a World Cup tournament and progressing past Germany and Belgium in previous rounds.
Just like in 2010, Uruguay will be the side to prevent the first-ever African semi-finalists in World Cup history. Back then, they denied Ghana in that controversial penalty shootout victory, with Senegal adding to their 2002 quarter-final heartache against Turkey and Cameroon’s last eight exit to England before them in 1990.
The Uruguayans will face France in the semi-finals, following their tight victory against Senegal in the last eight tie.
- Argentina knock out Brazil to keep their unbeaten run going.
- France reach a second successive World Cup final.
In a repeat of the 2021 Copa América final, Argentina and Brazil will face off at Qatar 2022. That final was a feisty affair, with nine yellow cards dished out by the referee – this match will be no different.
Argentina will once again inflict heartache of their South American rivals, with a late victory in a hot-tempered clash. Lionel Scaloni’s side will record their sixth win of the 2022 World Cup and extend their world record run to 41 games unbeaten going into the final.
They’ll face France in the final following their comfortable defeat of Uruguay in the other semi-final. The French make it to their fourth World Cup final and their second in succession following success in the 2018 FIFA World Cup final against Croatia and they become the first nation to make it to consecutive World Cup finals since Brazil in 2002 (three in a row).
- Argentina vs. France sees Messi complete football.
- Brazil finish third with a win over Uruguay in the third-place playoff.
Following Brazil’s easy win over Uruguay in the third-place playoff a day earlier, the 2022 World Cup comes to a close with Argentina versus France in the final.
Argentina equal Italy’s record of six World Cup final appearances and are now placed behind only Brazil (seven) and Germany (eight) in the rankings.
Three of their previous five final appearances have ended in despair, including the last two in 1990 and 2014 – both 1-0 defeats against European nations.
They’ll have a more enjoyable experience this time around.
My tournament prediction ends with Argentina lifting the World Cup by beating France in the final. Lionel Messi will close the chapter on his World Cup career by lifting the trophy in the Lusail Iconic Stadium, scoring the winning goal in a 2-1 victory.
This will be Argentina’s first World Cup title since beating West Germany in 1986, as they end the tournament with their 42nd successive game unbeaten in international football.