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2022 FIFA World Cup Favourites
Brazil are favourites heading into the tournament and it’s unthinkable that they could suffer a group-stage exit, having topped each of their past 10 World Cup groups. Tite has been in charge since 2016 now and although he survived a quarter-final exit to Belgium at the last World Cup, he’s since led the Selecao to back-to-back Copa America finals, winning in 2019 having dumped Argentina out in the semis before losing the 2021 final to Lionel Messi and company.
Brazil last lost a qualifier back in 2015, winning 26 of 34 matches since, as this time around it was 14 from 17 and a record of 40 goals scored and just five conceded. They enter the tournament as FIFA’s number one ranked side, while they’re W24-D4-L1 over their past 29 fixtures as only Argentina got the better of them, registering 20 clean sheets as they only once conceded more than a single goal.
There’s good balance to the squad as well. Premier League pair Alisson and Ederson provide world class options between the sticks, veteran defenders Thiago Silva and Dani Alves are joined by the likes of Marquinhos, Eder Militao and Danilo at the back, while Casemiro and Fabinho offer midfield steel. There’s artistry from Lucas Paqueta, Neymar, Vinicius Junior and Raphinha, while Richarlison and Gabriel Jesus offer finishing ability inside the box.
The Argentinians are second favourites to win the competition and thanks to Leo Messi they have a fantastic chance to go the whole way. La Albiceleste reached the final of the 2014 edition in Brazil, but eventually fell short due to an extra-time goal from Mario Götze. They were dumped out at the first knockout round by eventual winners France last time out, but have since rallied on the international stage. They finished third at the 2019 Copa America (where they lost to eventual winners Brazil in the semis) and then beat their fiercest rivals in the final of the 2021 edition.
Everyone assumed that Paulo Dybala wouldn’t be a part of selection for this World Cup because of his recent hamstring injury, but he has been included in the 26-man squad and it remains to be seen if he is going to play. Giovanni lo Celso remains the only big name in Argentina to not be selected as he is also recovering from surgery on his hamstring.
Argentina haven’t lost in their last 20 matches (W16-D4) and the fact that Messi has been playing much better this year means that they are going from strength to strength. They’ve only conceded 0.25 goals per game over these 20 matches, so you could definitely find some value in the win-to-nil markets. They’ve also scored first in 90% of these games and we expect this trend to carry on here, especially with the combined attacking prowess of Messi, Lautaro Martinez, Angel Di Maria, Joaquin Correa and Julian Alvarez.
The reigning champions don’t exactly have their work cut out for them in the group stages, with their only threat being Denmark. Les Bleus have stars all over the pitch, but their depth in attack is their best feature. Kylian Mbappe, Karim Benzema and Antoine Griezmann are the starters, but the likes of Ousmane Dembele, Antoine Griezmann and Kingsley Coman are all waiting in the wings for their chance to impress, though Christopher Nkunku misses out following a late injury.
Their midfield is a bit lacklustre with Paul Pogba and N’Golo Kante both out of the squad due to injury, so there’s an opportunity for Real Madrid pair Aurelien Tchouameni and Eduardo Camavinga to enjoy a break-out tournament. The likes of Adrien Rabiot and Matteo Guendouzi will offer alternative options, while the defence looks watertight with an array of talent packed into the squad.
Gareth Southgate’s England squad are getting closer and closer. Having reached the semis of the last World Cup, they then reached the final of the Euros, albeit largely helped by the majority of their matches being on home soil. They’re clear favourites to qualify from this group and they’ll be desperate to go that step further and win the whole thing. They undoubtedly have the quality in the squad, though they enter the tournament off the back of a poor run of form having finished bottom of their Nations League group.
Harry Kane is aiming to become the first player to win two World Cup Golden Boots, let alone successive ones, and with the quality the Three Lions have in behind their captain it wouldn’t be a surprise to see that happen. They’ll face some stern tests in this group, not least with sparks that’ll fly against Wales, and any lapses could cost them.
There are plenty of midfield options to Luis Enrique, most notably youngsters Pedri and Gavi, as well as the more experienced trio of Sergio Busquets, Rodri and Koke. However, the attack still lacks a reliable goalscorer, with Alvaro Morata, Ferran Torres and Ansu Fati expected to carry the burden. Enrique’s side struggled to exert authority at the Euros, drawing five of six matches, as extra time or penalties were required with Croatia, Switzerland and Italy.
Ahead of a late friendly with Jordan, Spain actually boast a 20-game streak for finding the net, the longest of any team heading into the World Cup, but that alone can’t paper over the void up front. They’ve only scored more than once in 12 of 26 games since the start of 2021, with 10 of the 12 against sides currently ranked outside FIFA’s top 30 in the world, and eight outside the top 50.
Hansi Flick has felt confident enough to leave the likes of Mats Hummels, Emre Can, Robin Gosens and Julian Draxler at home, and much like Luis Enrique, has plenty of technical quality at his disposal. He’ll expect his side to dominate possession against Japan and Costa Rica, but a main marksman eludes Germany, compounded by an injury to Timo Werner. Other attacking players Marco Reus and Florian Wirtz are sidelined too, while Toni Kroos retired from the international scene after the Euros.
Flick’s tenure began in extremely encouraging fashion as eight victories were secured on the bounce, but although the goals flowed, they did face inferior quality with all eight opponents currently ranked outside FIFA’s top 50. Die Mannschaft have since drawn five of seven games and taken victory just once, with a late pre-tournament friendly against Oman (75th) unlikely to shed any light on their prospects in Qatar. Although this less productive spell featured five clashes with heavyweights England, Italy or the Netherlands, they took just one point from a pair of Nations League clashes with Hungary as their vulnerabilities were on display.
Netherlands will be over the moon with this draw considering their pot, though their qualification is by no means a certainty. No side has come so close to winning the World Cup without actually lifting the trophy, with the Dutch’s three World Cup final defeats fuelling their motivation here, as will missing out on the previous edition back in 2018.
They’ve never been knocked out at the Group Stage of a World Cup, and we’d be surprised if they did so here. They’re clearly the best side in the group, and their 15-match winning run shows they come into this competition full of confidence. While a lot of that run was against weaker opposition in the qualifiers, wins over Belgium (twice), Wales (twice) and Poland ensured they topped their Nations League group in convincing fashion, with their 4-1 away win in Belgium the most noteworthy result of the lot.
They may struggle with the conditions, though reaching the final in South Africa back in 2010 shows that they can more than cope with hotter temperatures, and they could be a good bet to go deep this year.
Portugal took the long route to the finals, finishing second to Serbia in their group before play-off wins over Turkey and North Macedonia. As ever, they’ll be a hard team to beat, but they are susceptible to drawing games. They’ve won a paltry four of 18 matches across the past four major tournaments, drawing 10 of these, including six stalemates from seven appearances during their Euro 2016 title win.
Cristiano Ronaldo may be unsatisfied at Man Utd, but he remains the talisman for Portugal and with 117 goals and closing in on 200 caps, the 37-year-old will lead the line. Hey may only have two international goals from his past nine caps since November 2021, but he did bag 12 from his previous eight matches. However, his inability to play a pressing game, combined with fellow veteran Pepe’s need for a lower defensive block, we wouldn’t expect Portugal to play too many teams off the park and rack up big scorelines.
Belgium may sit second in FIFA’s world rankings, though a third-place finish at the last World Cup looks set to be the best their much-vaunted “golden generation” can achieve. A quarter-final appearance had been managed four years earlier, with the likes of Thibaut Courtois, Eden Hazard, Kevin De Bruyne and Romelu Lukaku yet to reach their prime, but time is now slipping away from Roberto Martinez’s men.
Hazard has endured an injury nightmare at Real Madrid and has spent this season warming the bench, while Lukaku comes into the tournament with an on-going muscular problem. The defence is the core concern, with stalwarts Jan Vertonghen (35) and Toby Alderweireld (33) ageing, while the likes of Vincent Kompany and Thomas Vermaelen are long gone. Moreover, Thomas Meunier is included despite having spent the last month sidelined following a cheekbone fracture.
Uruguay were in danger of missing out on the showpiece event as they lost five and drew another across October and November 2021, culminating in the departure of Oscar Tabarez, who had been at the helm for 15 years. They rallied under new boss Diego Alonso with four consecutive victories to finish third in qualification and secure an automatic pass, and appear to have gotten back into old habits having now conceded just one goal across their past seven appearances.
La Celeste will once again offer the biggest threat from South America beyond Brazil and Argentina, and have made it beyond the group stages at each of the last three World Cups, finishing fourth in 2010. The young stars from that team are now the veterans, with Fernando Muslera, Diego Godin, Martin Caceres, Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani all boasting well over a 100 caps each.
The old centre-back partnership of Jose Gimenez (27) and Diego Godin (36) will be wheeled out once more with Ronald Araujo starting the tournament injured, but there is also new blood with Real Madrid’s Federico Valverde and Liverpool’s Darwin Nunez joining the party. There’s good depth to the squad and particularly in midfield, with Rodrigo Bentancur, Nicolas de la Cruz, Giorgian de Arrascaeta and Lucas Torreira all between the prime ages of 24 to 28, while Matias Vecino isn’t past it at 31.
Croatia are the team most fancied to join Belgium in the knockouts and it’s easy to see why. They were beaten finalists in Russia and topped their qualifying group to reach Qatar, while they secured a semi-final spot in the Nations League ahead of France and Denmark this year. Only five players from the team that started that final four years ago are still around, but their results demonstrate that they remain a force to be reckoned with.
A never-give-in attitude and a midfield capable of exercising control remains the side’s strongest aspects, with Luka Modric defying time to continue pulling the strings in the middle, ably supported by Chelsea’s Mateo Kovacic and Inter’s Marcelo Brozovic. An experienced attack is formed of Ivan Perisic, Andrej Kramaric and Mario Pasalic, while the emergence of Josko Gvardiol and Josip Sutalo at the back is highly welcome with veteran duo Dejan Lovren and Domagoj Vida on their last legs.
After the emotional time Denmark had at the last major tournament, when Christian Eriksen suffered a cardiac arrest and was resuscitated on the pitch, they will be hoping to build on their semi-finals exit from the 2020 Euros. They were knocked out by England in extra time, who went on to lose against Italy on penalties.
The Danes are not a team to be taken lightly and have a lot of high-level players in defence and midfield. Kasper Schmeichel will line up between the sticks, Simon Kjaer and Andreas Christensen form a strong defensive partnership, while Joachim Andersen can come into the side when they opt to play with a back three. They have the aforementioned Eriksen in midfield with Sevilla’s Thomas Delaney and Tottenham’s Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg, while Mikkel Damsgaard, Andreas Skov Olsen and Kasper Dolberg will offer the main attacking outlets.
Brazil (5), Argentina (6.5), France (8.5), Spain (10), England (10.5), Germany (13), Netherlands (15), Portugal (19), Belgium (20), Denmark (34), Uruguay (52), Croatia (67)
Excluding sides well down the market, Croatia and Denmark would appear the weakest sides with a slim chance of going all the way, with those sides even taking four and six points off France respectively in the Nations League this year. Croatia were of course finalists four years ago, while Denmark reached the semis at the Euros, though both enjoyed some kind fixtures in the knockouts. Although capable of producing the odd upset on their day, they’ll require a similarly favourable draw to stand a chance in Qatar.
Spain and Germany won’t have exactly been pleased with the group draw, particularly as a dangerous looking Japan could advance at the expense of one of them. Lacking a focal point up front that can guarantee goals, La Roja and Die Mannschaft are likely to need extra time or penalties more than once if they’re to go the distance. In addition, a likely meeting with Belgium for the runners-up of Group E leaves the path to the final looking very arduous indeed.
It’s a similar story for Portugal and Uruguay, even if they should both escape a group featuring Ghana (the lowest-ranked side at the tournament) and a South Korea that are virtually a one-man team and sweating on Son Heung-min’s fitness. Both will be saying goodbye to some stellar names in attack (Ronaldo/Suarez/Cavani), but they’re sides very much focused on defence first before thinking of breaking teams down.
Ageing stars could also prove a problem for Belgium, with the defence a particular concern. The Red Devils are only W2-D0-L6 against England, Italy, France, Portugal and Netherlands over the past couple of years and may well come unstuck against high-calibre opposition in the knockouts. However, they’re efficient flat-track bullies with an enviable qualifying record in recent campaigns, where they’re W40-D7-L1 since the start of the journey to Euro 2016. They scored an average of 3.13 goals per game and conceded just 0.5, but those cracks at the back are starting to show with just three clean sheets from the last 10 qualifiers. Still, they’ve won 29 of the last 32 unbeaten qualifiers, while they’ve topped their group in every major tournament since 2014 (with the exception of 2016 when they finished level on points with Italy).
Brazil, Argentina and France deserve their billing as the favourites, but England and Netherlands shouldn’t be discounted following favourable group draws. The latter have also been handed a boost in that their main rivals for top spot, reigning Africa Cup of Nations champions Senegal, have lost star man Sadio Mane to injury for at least the first two games. That means the Bayern forward will miss the clash with the Dutch in the two side’s opening game, and topping the group would likely leave the Netherlands facing either Iran, Wales or the United States in the knockouts, and incredibly favourable draw considering they weren’t a pot one side heading into the tournament.
Gareth Southgate enjoyed plenty of luck with the draws at both the last World Cup and Euros, and his lucky star appears not to have deserted him this time. Finish ahead of Iran, Wales and the United States and England will face the runners-up of the Netherland’s group, most likely Senegal or Ecuador. Where the Three Lions do have an issue however is in defence, where a lack of quality centre-backs has encouraged Southgate to field extra cover with the back three in an attempt to hide the weakness. Relegation from the Nations League this year has also added to the sense that Southgate’s time at the helm could be coming to an end, while unlike the last two major tournaments, acclimatisation could prove a major hazard for England.
In fact, the climate could play a role in diminishing the chances of most European sides. Temperatures are set to be high in Qatar this winter, and despite measures taken to keep stadiums cool, humidity levels will certainly play a part as that is expected to sit around 70% throughout the tournament. That certainly leaves Brazil and Argentina tasty prospects as they’re used to similar conditions, while there are also further reasons to suggest France could fail to deliver.
Les Bleus are no strangers to infighting, most notably in 2010, and Kylian Mbappe’s ego could prove a destabilizing influence. They struggled at the Euros as they threw away a 3-1 lead over Switzerland in the last 10 minutes, before eventually going out on penalties, while their recent Nations League campaign saw them finish a distant third to Croatia and Denmark, and only one point ahead of relegated Austria. Throw in injuries to midfielders Paul Pogba and N’Golo Kante, who formed a highly effective partnership, and there’s certainly reasons to avoid France. The only teams to have won back-to-back World Cups are Italy (1934 & 1938) and Brazil (1958 & 1962), so it’s a tall order to expect the French to add a third World Cup to their name.
Argentina are also gunning for a third title, with the last one coming back in 1986, and there’s a sense that Lionel Messi has never come into a World Cup with a better chance. He didn’t feature too much as a teenager in 2006, Diego Maradona preferred building the side around Carlos Tevez in 2010, Argentina played some pretty uninspiring football on the way to a runners-up medal in 2014, while 2018 was a complete disaster as they drew with Iceland and got thumped by Croatia in the group stages, before France put an end to them in the last 16.
The team has never been so well balanced to get the best out of Messi and Lionel Scaloni, who was part of the 2006 squad along with Messi, has impressed since taking over in 2018. A semi-final appearance at the 2019 Copa America was respectable, but Messi finally got his hands on an international trophy in 2021, beating hosts Brazil in the final.
The Selecao don’t appear to have a weakness, with cover in all areas of the pitch. They also benefit from a squad mostly in its prime years, with 18 of the 26 selected between the ages of 24 and 31, while in addition there are another some exciting young attackers (Vinicius Jr, Rodrygo, Anthony and Gabriel Martinelli) to throw in the mix as well. The strength in depth available to Tite gives his men the edge over Argentina, and a first World Cup in 20 years looks well within reach. However, the Argentine’s also boast a strong squad age profile, leaving the winning confederation an attractive proposition, additionally getting Uruguay onside as the conditions will suit more than the European sides.
WINNING CONFEDERATION – CONMEBOL
BRAZIL TO WIN
NETHERLANDS TO REACH THE FINAL
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