The World Cup is just one week away so sweepstakes are happening in offices up and down the country (I got England, plus the hosts Russia and Iceland, oh joys...) and the nation is gripped on predicting what will happen at football’s greatest spectacle.
Here, for what it’s worth, are my wildly inaccurate guesstimates for how things will turn out in Russia. And hey, it’s a bit of fun, and even the great man Pele gets a few predictions wrong here and there...
How far will England get?
I’m quietly optimistic about our chances this summer. There’s minimal expectation compared to many previous tournaments and we have a relatively exciting, youthful feel to the squad. A couple of good results to start things off and who knows what could happen as the confidence flows through the squad. Then again, we all know what happens when we underestimate a supposed lesser footballing nation...
I’m going to stay quietly optimistic and go for Quarter Finals.
Your England starting XI:
Given we’re definitely going to play three at the back, I may as well stick with that. I’d much prefer Danny Rose to play ahead of Ashley Young, while I liked the look of Jesse Lingard and Raheem Sterling in behind Harry Kane in the recent friendly against Holland. Dele Alli in midfield may be a bit risky in bigger games, but I can’t stand seeing Eric Dier playing in midfield. The biggest thing we’re lacking is a solid (good) defensive midfielder to break play up, but maybe John Stones stepping out of defence could fill that void.
5-2-2-1: Jordan Pickford; Kieran Trippier, Kyle Walker, John Stones, Gary Cahill, Danny Rose; Jordan Henderson, Dele Alli; Raheem Sterling, Jesse Lingard; Harry Kane
England’s top goalscorer:
It’s tough to look beyond Harry Kane. If we can give him decent service, particularly through his Spurs teammates Trippier and Rose and the free-roaming Sterling and Lingard, he could score a bag full. Knowing our luck it’ll be Gary Cahill with two headers to rescue points in our opening two games.
I think it’s a really hard one to call this time around, there’s a lot of fairly similar teams and no particular standout side. I also think there’s no side that has a particularly amazing defence.
I’m going to go with Argentina, spearheaded by a Lionel Messi keen to shush all those ‘but he’s never won a World Cup’ fools, to go one better than last time. Their attack is ridiculously good, so if they can sort it out defensively - which is admittedly unlikely with Nicolas Otamendi in situ - then they’ll be a scary prospect.
I’m going with France, they have a good blend of attack and defence, plus youth and experience.
Argentina, France, Brazil and Spain. Two South Americans and two Europeans for some intriguing symmetry.
Looking at the groups there’s a massive opportunity for several unfancied sides. In particular, Group H, which is made up of Poland, Senegal, Colombia and Japan.
But I’m quietly excited about Serbia, who have the wonderkid talents of Luka Jovic and Andija Zivkovic, along with the highly coveted Sergej Milinkovic Savic, plus the experience of Aleksandar Kolarov and Nemanja Matic. And, they always produce great wonderkids on Football Manager.
I’d love it to be Germany, but it seems highly unlikely. Sod it, Germany to bottle it and rue leaving out Leroy Sane and 2014 goalscoring hero Mario Gotze, with Manuel Neuer throwing an absolute clanger to send them crashing out. By the way, how is Mario Gomez only 32?
Golden Ball Winner:
Lionel Messi, again.
Best Young Player:
Kylian Mbappe and Ousmane Dembele could both light up the tournament for the French, but I’ll back Mbappe to pip the Barcelona man.
Golden Boot Winner:
I seriously think Kane could be up there, especially if we get him firing against Panama and Tunisia. Realistically though, one of the Argentinian attacking arsenal - I’ll go for Gonzalo Higuain.
Golden Glove Winner:
To go back to Serbia, I think Andrija Zivkovic could make a name for himself at this tournament. And, to stick with my Football Manager inspired predictions, Portugal winger Gelson Martins to earn himself a big money move from Sporting to the Premier League.
Luis Suarez, just because it would be funny again. From that shocking handball against Ghana in 2010 to the even more shocking bite on Chiellini in 2014, what will he do this time?
Your own bonus prediction:
Paulo Guerrero to open the scoring in Peru’s opening game against Denmark next Saturday, and celebrate Robbie Fowler-esque by ‘snorting’ the white lines of the penalty box.
And... England to win a match on penalties! As mad as that sounds...