Top four: Germany, Spain, Brazil, France
Originally my pick was Spain, who looked cohesive, strong, stacked with quality and in possession of game-changers from the bench.
But then manager Julen Lopetegui accepted the Real Madrid job on the eve of the tournament, and it’s sent La Furia Roja’s preparations spiralling, as The Independent’s Miguel Delaney noted.
With that in mind, the pick becomes Germany. Reigning champions don’t always fare too well—see Spain in 2014 for details—but this team is loaded with quality and has a winning mentality.
Top four: France, Brazil, Germany, Spain
What a dream scenario this would be: the four best teams living up to their potential and battling for glory.
Picking France to come out on top is based on the fact they have such depth and balance in the squad. Granted, they bear the scars of losing to Portugal in the final of Euro 2016. But since then, the likes of Benjamin Mendy, Corentin Tolisso and Ousmane Dembele have emerged to add more dynamism.
If their star names can come close to their best level—I’m looking at you, Paul Pogba and Antoine Griezmann!—France will be formidable champions.
Top four: France, Spain, Brazil, Germany
Spain has unrivalled midfield talents and recent wins against Italy (3-0) and Argentina (6-1) testify to their strength, but an inability to settle on a proven No. 9 might mean they come up just short.
Germany are the pass-masters at World Cup finals, having won the tournament four times as well as reaching three other finals. Given the strength of their squad, no one will fancy meeting Joachim Low’s men.
Brazil has recovered impressively from its humiliating 7-1 semi-final defeat to Germany in the last World Cup on home soil. They arrive in Russia as most people’s favourites but face stiff competition thousands of miles from home this time.
My winner is France. The enviable spine to this team—including centre-back pairing Raphael Varane and Samuel Umtiti, voracious midfield screen N’Golo Kante and Antoine Griezmann up front—could propel them to their first World Cup win since 1998.
Top four: Spain, France, Brazil, Germany
It’s impossible to predict what will happen at a World Cup, but these four are the strongest teams on paper and should manage to keep out of each other’s way until the semi-finals.
France have got an incredibly deep talent pool, and there are signs that Didier Deschamps now knows his best team. Germany are the reigning champions (and could even afford to leave out Leroy Sane). Brazil look much more cohesive than they did in 2014. Spain have got an exceptional lineup, a successful style of play and options on the bench, which make them my favourites.
Top four: Spain, Belgium, Brazil, France
Spain‘s ball circulation and the movement of their midfielders is something else. David Silva, Isco and Co. turn each action into a dance. And their confidence is back with underrated coach Julen Lopetegui.
After the humiliating failure of 2014, they will go on a deep run, beat Belgium’s golden generation in the semi-finals and reach their second World Cup final in three cycles. Brazil will fight them for the title after rediscovering their mojo and thrashing France en route.
Diego Costa, who was snubbed by Brazil manager Luiz Felipe Scolari before the last tournament, will then become the country’s new villain. He will get Neymar red-carded and score the winner.