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Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 20 September 2018

2018 World Cup predictions: Winners, losers, top-scorers and players to watch

The National staff give their predictions ahead of the World Cup in Russia starting June 14

Richard Jolly, Premier League correspondent

Winner and why: Brazil. One of the most talented teams, no longer as reliant on Neymar and, with their fine form under Tite, they seem to be peaking at the right time.

Predicted final: Germany v Brazil. Germany’s quest to retain the World Cup could go all the way to Moscow on July 15. The ultimate tournament team may reach another final.

The four semi-finalists: France, Germany, Brazil, Spain. Spain could have the toughest route to the last four with a group game against Portugal and a potential quarter-final with Argentina.

Surprise package (team): Egypt. Africa’s best chance of a quarter-finalist, though they could face Portugal or Spain in the last 16.

Biggest disappointment (team or player): Russia. An opening fixture against Saudi Arabia and one of the weaker groups bring a chance to progress, but the hosts have been poor for too long.

Best African team: Egypt. Much will obviously rest on Mohamed Salah but they have the potential to top Group A. Hector Cuper’s tactical nous could be key.

Best Asian team: Japan may be the best team but Australia or South Korea may stand a slightly better chance of reaching the knockout stages.

Top scorer: Romelu Lukaku. Group games against Panama, Tunisia and England could offer the chance to be prolific.

Player of the tournament: Neymar. Probably won’t be the best player, but as the most famous footballer in the Brazil team, may win the award.

Player to watch out for: James Rodriguez. Partly because it will be intriguing if the last tournament’s top scorer can exert a similar impact and partly because Group H could be the tightest pool.

Colombia's James Rodriguez. Martin Mejia / AP Photo
Colombia's James Rodriguez. Martin Mejia / AP Photo

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Ian Hawkey, European football correspondent

Winner and why: Brazil. Because it really matters that they make amends for what happened in Belo Horizonte four years ago. They have found real competitive form and a good balance to their side since then. Neymar should be fresh after his jog through Ligue 1 for three-quarters of the season and his restful recuperation from injury over the last three months.

Predicted final: Brazil v Spain

The four semi-finalists: Brazil, Spain, Germany and France

Surprise package (team): Colombia

Biggest disappointment (team or player): Russia

Best African team: Morocco

Best Asian team: Australia

Top scorer: Antoine Griezmann (France)

Player of the tournament: Neymar (Brazil)

Player to watch out for: Sergej Milinkovic-Savic (Serbia)

France forward Antoine Griezmann. Damien Meyer / AFP
France forward Antoine Griezmann. Damien Meyer / AFP

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Paul Radley, sports reporter

Winner and why: Germany. Because it’s always Germany. There is a reason Bayern Munich have had at least one player in every World Cup final since 1982. Unrelenting does not cover it. And they will be angry they only made the semi-finals of the 2016 European Championship. It had appeared back then Joachim Low’s tenure might be wending its way to an end. Then they were immaculate in qualifying for Russia, and Low has just signed a new deal till 2022. Brazil will get their chance for retribution for four years ago in the final. Germany will ruin the party. Standard.

Predicted final: Germany v Brazil

The four semi-finalists: Germany, France, Brazil, Belgium

Surprise package: England

Biggest disappointment (team or player): Russia

Best African team: Egypt

Best Asian team: Iran

Top scorer: Gabriel Jesus (Brazil)

Player of the tournament: Neymar (Brazil)

Player to watch out for: Dries Mertens (Belgium)

Brazil’s Gabriel Jesus. Eraldo Peres / AP Photo
Brazil’s Gabriel Jesus. Eraldo Peres / AP Photo

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John McAuley, sports reporter

Winner and why: Brazil. Perfect blend of skill and steel, the players adore Tite and, in a returning Neymar, they have one of the three best footballers in the world.

Predicted final: Brazil v Germany

The four semi-finalists: France v Brazil, Spain v Germany

Surprise package (team): Colombia

Biggest disappointment (team or player): Portugal

Best African team: Senegal

Best Asian team: Iran

Top scorer: Antoine Griezmann (France)

Player of the tournament: Neymar (Brazil)

Player to watch out for: Timo Werner (Germany)

Timo Werner of Germany.  Sebastian Widmann / Getty Images
Timo Werner of Germany.  Sebastian Widmann / Getty Images

Steve Luckings, deputy sports editor

Winner and why: Germany. A look at Germany's squad is enough to have most wondering if it's even worth boarding the flight to Russia. Most squads would gladly take Joachim Low's third choice in every position as their first. Germany have all the ingredients: World-Cup-winning know-how of Manuel Neuer, Jerome Boateng, Mats Hummels, Sami Khedira, Toni Kroos, Mesut Ozil and Thomas Muller, the vibrancy of youth in Joshua Kimmich, Julian Brandt and Timo Werner, the well-rested such as Julian Draxler, the red-hot form of Leroy Sane and plenty in reserve like a fit-again Marco Reus.

Predicted final: Brazil v Germany

The four semi-finalists: France, Brazil, Argentina, Germany

Surprise package: Colombia

Biggest disappointment (team or player): Russia

Best African team: Senegal

Best Asian team: Australia

Top scorer: Gonzalo Higuain (Argentina)

Player of the tournament: Neymar (Brazil)

Player to watch out for: Paulo Dybala (Argentina)

Juventus' Argentina forwards Paulo Dybala, left, and Gonzalo Higuain. Marco Bertorello / AFP
Juventus' Argentina forwards Paulo Dybala, left, and Gonzalo Higuain. Marco Bertorello / AFP

Andy Mitten, European football correspondent

Winner and why: Brazil. They are the best team and were dominant in the hardest qualifying group.

Predicted final: Spain v Brazil

The four semi-finalists: Spain, Brazil, Germany, France

Surprise package (team): Switzerland

Biggest disappointment (team or player): England

Best African team: Egypt

Best Asian team : Japan

Top scorer: Lionel Messi (Argentina)

Player of the tournament: Antoine Griezmann (France)

Player to watch out for: Goncalo Guedes (Portugal)

Argentina's Lionel Messi. Juan Ruiz / AFP
Argentina's Lionel Messi. Juan Ruiz / AFP

Chitrabhanu Kadalayil, assistant sports editor

Winner and why: France. They have a wealth of talent at their disposal, including the likes of Paul Pogba, Antoine Griezmann, Kylian Mbappe and N'Golo Kante. But they also seem a settled side, not very different from the one that mounted a serious challenge for the European Championship title in 2016. Possibly still hurting from their defeat to Portugal two years ago, manager Didier Deschamps has had time to organise again.

Predicted final: France v Brazil

The four semi-finalists: France, Brazil, Argentina and Germany

Surprise package (team): Iceland

Biggest disappointment (team or player): Japan

Best African team: Egypt

Best Asian team: Australia

Top scorer: Antoine Griezmann (France)

Player of the tournament: Neymar (Brazil)

Player to watch out for: Kylian Mbappe (France)

France forwards Ousmane Dembele, left, and Kylian Mbappe. Franck Fife / AFP
France forwards Ousmane Dembele, left, and Kylian Mbappe. Franck Fife / AFP

Graham Caygill, sports editor

Winner and why: France should have won Euro 2016 and there is no reason why they should not be a force to be reckoned with here. There is serious talent in this squad in the shape of Antoine Griezmann, Thomas Lemar, Paul Pogba and Kylian Mbappe to name just four players and they are strong in all areas. If Griezmann, Olivier Giroud or Mbappe can step up and be a consistent source of goals they have every chance of winning the tournament for a second time and a first outside France.

Predicted final: France v Germany

The four semi-finalists: France, Brazil, Argentina and Germany

Surprise package (team): Colombia

Biggest disappointment (team or player): Russia

Best African team: Egypt

Best Asian team: Japan

Top scorer: Antoine Griezmann (France)

Player of the tournament: Paul Pogba (France)

Player to watch out for: Gabriel Jesus (Brazil)

Spain have strength across the pitch and should be contenders for the 2018 World Cup. Juan Medina / Reuters
Spain have strength across the pitch and should be contenders for the 2018 World Cup. Juan Medina / Reuters

Jon Turner, assistant sports editor

Winner and why: Spain. They possess the best goalkeeper, the best midfield, one of the best defences, and in Diego Costa, a menace of a centre-forward. The squad is packed with newly-crowned trophy-winners, including members of Barcelona's dominant Primera Liga side, Real Madrid's Uefa Champions League history-makers, Atletico Madrid's Europa League winners and a Manchester City Premier League champion. Beyond individual quality, Spain have proved their collective strength by cruising through qualifying and should have few problems in a group containing Morocco, Iran and an under-performing Portugal.

Predicted final: Spain v Brazil

The four semi-finalists: Spain, Brazil, France, Germany

Surprise package (team): Serbia

Biggest disappointment (team or player): England

Best African team: Egypt

Best Asian team: Japan

Top scorer: Lionel Messi (Argentina)

Player of the tournament: Isco (Spain)

Player to watch out for: Gabriel Jesus (Brazil)

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