The wait is almost over: the 2022 World Cup in Qatar is just days away. 

Who will scoop the Golden Boot and win the Golden Ball award for the best player of the tournament? 

And most importantly, how will England and Wales do? Our team of writers look into the World Cup stars.

Writers' predictions 

James Descombes

World Cup winners: Brazil

With so much attacking talent in their ranks it’s hard to look past the number one ranked team in the world.

Neymar, Jesus, Raphinha, Richarlison, Paqueta, Vinicius Jr, Bruno Guimaraes, Antony…. We’re expecting champagne football.

And their defence isn’t too shabby either.


Golden Boot: Neymar

With Brazil being strong contenders to win the World Cup, you’ve got to expect their main man to be up there among the goals.

Brazil are in a group with Switzerland, Cameroon and Serbia, so don’t be surprised if Neymar gets off to a flying start.


Golden Ball: Leroy Sane

With Kai Havertz likely to start up front for the Germans, expect fellow forwards to join in with the goalscoring fun.

Leroy Sane has looked back to his best in a Bayern Munich shirt this season,
with five goals in 13 appearances in the Bundesliga and four in four in the Champions League.

Expect him to shine in Qatar.


Dark horse: Serbia

While you’d think Brazil will win Group G, second place is very much up for grabs and Serbia will fancy their chances of making it to the round of 16.

With Aleksandar Mitrovic and Dusan Vlahovic up front, there aren’t many nations with a more potent strikeforce.

Whoever comes second will play whoever finishes first in Group H (Uruguay, Portugal, South Korea or Ghana), so Serbia might even be eying a quarter-final or better.


One to watch: Cody Gakpo

PSV’s youth academy graduate has been getting better year on year and has attracted interest from Premier League clubs such as Man Utd and Arsenal.

Last season he scored 12 times in the Dutch Eredivisie and so far this season he’s put up numbers similar to Man City’s Erling Haaland.

Gapko has nine goals and 12 assists in 14 league appearances this season, plus three goals and two assists in five matches in the Europa League.

Can he enter the elite bracket of players with a stand-out World Cup campaign for Holland?


How will England do? Semi-final

The Three Lions should make it out of Group B without too much trouble.

If they top their group they’ll play the 2nd-placed Group A side, with a win taking them to a potential clash against France.

That could mean early elimination, but England shouldn’t be fearful of anyone and I can see them clinching a famous win to make it through to the semis, where they’ll most likely lose on penalties!


How will Wales do? Round of 16

With Bale pulling the strings for Wales I fancy them to make it out of Group B along with England.

That would see them play the winner of Group A, which might be the Netherlands, where Bale’s brilliance won’t be enough to take them any further.


Bold prediction: The winner of the Golden Boot will score 10+ goals

This has only ever happened three times, the last time in 1970 when Gerd
Muller scored 10 goals for Germany.

More often than not, six goals is enough to win the Golden Boot, but with the World Cup coming mid-season I think we’ll see some goalscorers at their peak.

Harry Kane to bag five against Iran, anyone?

Leroy Sane
Leroy Sane - Germany

Callum Davis

World Cup winners: Argentina

We're all about the romance here at BT Sport, and watching Lionel Messi finally lift the World Cup trophy aloft would be a true footballing fairytale.

Winning the 2021 Copa America silenced the naysayers that questioned Messi’s achievements at international level, but glory in Qatar would finally put the ‘GOAT’ debate to rest.


Golden Boot: Lautaro Martinez

He can be streaky but Lautaro Martinez heads to Qatar in excellent form. He was Argentina’s top scorer in qualifying and, providing Argentina don’t go out to Denmark or France in the first knockout stage, he should benefit from a deep run in the tournament.


Golden Ball: Lionel Messi

I’m all in on Argentina and their talismanic captain, Lionel Messi. His performances for PSG have not set the world alight but Leo is a different animal when he pulls on that Argentina number 10 shirt.


Dark horse: Portugal

I’m not sure a team with so much firepower can be described as ‘dark horses’, but Portugal have largely flown under the radar in talk of potential World Cup winners.

Cristiano Ronaldo will have a point to prove after being left out in the cold at Manchester United and Qatar will provide the perfect stage for his redemption story.


One to watch: Jamal Musiala

The one that got away for England.

Despite being eligible to represent the Three Lions, Musiala made his international bow for Die Mannschaft, becoming the youngest German to appear at a major tournament when he played against Hungary at the Euros last summer.

Directly involved in nine goals in the first nine matches for Bayern this season with five goals and four assists, there's no wonder there's so much hype around Musiala.

Qatar could be his coming out party on the world stage.


How will England do? Quarter-finals

Let’s face it, England are well overdue some major-tournament heartbreak.

If, as expected, England top their group, it’s hard to see the Three Lions going beyond the last eight where holders France most likely await.

Relegation in the UEFA Nations League was the worst-possible preparation for a side that often looks to lack ideas under Gareth Southgate.


How will Wales do? Group stage

All roads lead through Gareth Bale.

The forward proved in the play-offs that even if Wales have learned to get results without him, and even if Joes Rodon and Allen are harder to replace, he is the star in big games, with everyone else in his orbit.

After a mixed start to life in the MLS, this might be one impossible job too far for the greatest British footballer of his generation.


Bold prediction: Curtain falls on Belgium’s golden generation

Once perennial dark horses, Belgium have become international football’s great under-achievers.

With Eden Hazard, Thibaut Courtois and Kevin de Bruyne all in their 30s, it’s a case of now or never for Belgium’s so-called ‘Golden Generation’.

lionel messi
Lionel Messi - Argentina

George Mills

World Cup winners: Argentina

They've got the best player in the world. They're arguably the in-form team of the tournament. They've probably got one of the deepest squads heading to Qatar.

All the ingredients are there to suggest the stars might align for Lionel Scaroni's men in the Middle East.


Golden Boot: Kylian Mbappe

He’s been there, done that and got the t-shirt already - and he’s still only 23 years old.

23! It’s ludicrous.

France’s strength is depth should ensure he’s never short of quality service and Les Bleus are heavily fancied for another deep run in the tournament.


Golden Ball: Lionel Messi

Argentina look a solid bet to compete for their first World Cup trophy since 1986 as they enter the competition on an incredible run of 35 games unbeaten.

This will likely be Messi’s last chance to secure the ultimate prize in football and the diminutive genius is in good form heading into Qatar.

Already his country’s all-time goalscorer and record cap holder, Messi has a solid supporting cast behind him who could help him further embellish his legacy and help propel him to a tournament victory.


Dark horse: Portugal

On paper, Fernando Santos’ men have one of the most interesting squads at the tournament, although their long-time coach is notoriously not one of the more expansive tacticians heading to the Far East this winter.

Regardless, the 68-year-old has already steered his nation to an unfancied major tournament win when Portugal secured the 2016 Euros almost by stealth, winning only one game in normal time along the way.


One to watch: Enzo Fernandez

Benfica’s Argentine midfielder is fast becoming the hottest prospect in European football thanks to his performances in helping lead the Portuguese giants through the Champions League group stage.

Still only 21 and in just his first season on the continent since a summer move from River Plate, Fernandez looks set for big things over the next few years and will relish the biggest stage of all to showcase his skills.


How will England do?

I don’t think qualification will be a formality as many people expect on the face of it.

England’s group is the only one at this World Cup in which all four teams are ranked inside the top 25.

There may be a few hairy moments along the way but I would still expect England to make it into the knockout stages of the tournament, even if the momentum isn’t quite with the Three Lions by the time that happens.


How will Wales do?

You’d be a fool to write Wales off given their consistent ability to punch above their weight.

A team who are always more than the sum of their parts, they still rely on Gareth Bale’s game-changing ability to help them win matches and their fate will rest almost solely in his hands in Qatar.

Qualification from the group would be a phenomenal achievement.


Bold prediction: Germany to crash out in the group stages

Hansi Flick’s side have some of the most talented young stars in the world among their ranks with the likes of Youssoufa Moukoko, Karim Adeyemi and Jamal Musiala making their World Cup debuts in Qatar.

However, there’s a fair argument to suggest this might be the weakest Germany side - on paper - we’ve seen for a while.

They have made a habit of showing up for major tournaments over the years but this one could be a humbling experience for Die Mannschaft.

Kylian Mbappe
Kylian Mbappe - France

Alex Bowmer

World Cup winners: Brazil

Favourites for good reason after a sensational qualifying campaign in which they went undefeated and conceded just five goals in 17 games.


Golden Boot: Harry Kane

Although England’s group is by no means easy, Harry Kane will expect to have bagged several times before the knockout phase comes around.

Kane won the individual accolade at the 2018 tournament, and although there are concerns over his physical state, Tottenham’s talisman should start every game for his country (injury permitting).

The fact he is the team’s penalty taker boosts his chances of scooping the Golden Boot, with many of his team-mates capable of drawing in defenders in the box.


Golden Ball: Neymar

This year may well represent Neymar’s last chance to get his hands on the World Cup.

Brazil haven’t had this good a chance to win it for a long time, and with the 30-year-old as the figurehead, the five-time winners will be a force to be reckoned with for any opposition.


Dark horses: Serbia

This is very much Serbia’s golden generation and they backed up that status by beating Portugal to top spot in qualifying.

Dusan Tadic captains the side and has recently been playing some of the best football of his career at Ajax, while Juventus winger Filip Kostic won the Europa League last season with Eintracht Frankfurt.

Up front, Aleksandar Mitrovic has been sensational for Fulham, while Dusan Vlahovic is among Europe’s most threatening strikers at his best. Luka Jovic is also on the up with Fiorentina after a difficult time at Real Madrid.


One to watch: Jonathan David

Although Canada are likely to struggle to finish above Belgium or Croatia, their finished top of CONCACAF qualifying and possess one of Europe’s form strikers in Jonathan David, who is loving life under Paulo Fonseca at Lille.

Even if he is only to participate in the group stage in Qatar, expect a few clubs to be fighting for his signature come January, with the 22-year-old not yet in the prime of his career and set to play a huge part in his country’s home World Cup in 2026.


How will England do? Quarter-finals

This prediction is based solely on the expectation that the Three Lions will meet France in the last eight, despite both teams’ stuttering form leading up to this tournament.

Even though they haven’t won this year, it’s hard to see Gareth Southgate’s men not stepping it up when it really matters (at least initially).

Finishing top of Group B would make England heavy favourites against the runners-up of Group A, containing the Netherlands, Senegal, Ecuador and Qatar.

However, if France reach their potential, they will prove difficult to stop.


How will Wales do? Group stage

With England in their group, you’d imagine that Wales are vying for second place with the USA, but despite some notable Premier League pedigree in the ranks and the big-game mentality of Gareth Bale, the Americans may just have marginally more quality in depth.


Bold prediction: Qatar to make the last 16

It seems slightly far-fetched, but given that they are playing in familiar surroundings and are on a five-game unbeaten run (albeit against teams who didn’t qualify for the tournament), Qatar may fancy their chances.

The togetherness fostered by the fact that exactly half the squad plays for the same club side – Al-Sadd – is not to be underestimated, and their world ranking of 50 is not to be sniffed at, especially given they have no previous World Cup experience.

Neymar - Brazil

Tim Williams

World Cup winners: Argentina

35 unbeaten and counting: Argentina are ready for World Cup glory.

Manager Lionel Scaloni has fashioned a coherent side complete with a sprinkling of stardust and an utterly dominant 3-0 win over Italy in the Finalissima at Wembley in June suggests they can break the European stranglehold.


Golden Boot: Richarlison

Has seven goals in his last six games for Brazil and will lead the line ahead of Gabriel Jesus.

Manager Tite is spoilt for choice with no fewer than nine attackers in his squad but the Tottenham forward, with 17 goals in his first 38 games for Brazil, has been tasked with applying the finishing touch.


Golden Ball: Angel Di Maria

Was unceremoniously dropped after taking much of the blame for a chastening defeat to Colombia in the 2019.

Three years on, he is a national hero after his winner in the 2021 Copa America and indispensable under Lionel Scaloni.

The spotlight will inevitably fall on Lionel Messi, but the Juventus winger will have a major role to play as Argentina chase a first World Cup since 1986.


Dark horse: Denmark

Denmark head to Qatar with a balanced team, a discerning manager in Kasper Hjulmund and two recent victories over Group D rivals France.

They were semi-finalists at Euro 2020 and will be a match for anyone with Christian Eriksen back involved and ready realise his goal of playing in a World Cup after his cardiac arrest.


One to watch: Moises Caicedo

Ecuadorian midfielder Moises Caicedo has taken the Premier League by storm, playing every game for Brighton this season.

The 21-year-old has the strength, speed and technical quality to flourish on the biggest stage and has reportedly already been sounded out by some of Europe’s top clubs.


How will England do? Quarter-finals

Should have enough to reach the knockouts but the vibe has gone, and the Southgate era is in danger of ending with a whimper.

A suspect defence will ultimately cost England, perhaps against France.


How will Wales do? Group stage

Gareth Bale and Aaron Ramsey are threats, but their squad is unbalanced, and they could just miss out in a deceptively tough group.

The opener against USA will be pivotal.


Bold prediction: Canada to reach the knockouts

Football in Canada is blossoming, and John Herdman’s side could spring a surprise or two at their first World Cup since 1986.

Bayern Munich’s Alphonso Davies and Lille’s Jonathan David are the star names, but Cyle Larin and Stephen Eustaquio of Club Brugge and Porto are equally important.


Moises Caicedo
Moises Caicedo - Ecuador

Callum Rice-Coates

World Cup winners: Brazil

It’s 20 years since Brazil’s last World Cup title and the time seems right for the tournament’s most successful nation to taste glory again.

An unbeaten qualifying campaign and a squad stacked with talent makes Tite’s team a formidable prospect heading into Qatar.


Golden Boot: Kylian Mbappe

The star of the show in 2018 at the age of just 19, Mbappe has developed even further over the last four years.

France may not be as strong without Paul Pogba and N’Golo Kante in midfield, but the PSG forward should still get plenty of chances. And with 19 goals already this season, expect him to take most of them.


Golden Ball: Neymar

Neymar will likely be determined to put the ignominy of 2014 and the disappointment of 2018 behind him and lead Brazil to glory in his third World Cup.

At 30, the PSG man is at the peak of his powers and appears to be back to his very best. Expectations will be high, but that’s when Neymar generally thrives.


Dark horse: Uruguay

Everyone, understandably, is talking about Brazil and Argentina, but Uruguay could make their mark at another World Cup.

With a promising mix of experience and youth, and the raw exuberance of Liverpool’s Darwin Nunez in attack, Diego Alonso’s side shouldn’t be discounted.

Midfielder Fede Valverde has been amongst the top performing players in Europe for Real Madrid this season, and he’s joined in midfield by Tottenham’s Rodrigo Bentancur.

This is a squad full of talent and one that has perhaps gone under the radar.


One to watch: Xavi Simons

Simons is yet to earn his first Netherlands cap but there is plenty of excitement around his inclusion in Louis van Gaal’s World Cup squad.

The 19-year-old has caught the eye for PSV this season, scoring nine goals in all competitions and impressing against Arsenal in the Europa League.


How will England do? Quarter-finals

England’s route through the group stages and into the last eight seems relatively straightforward, although certainly not as easy as some have suggested.

In the latter stages of the competition, though, Gareth Southgate’s squad might be found wanting in key areas.


How will Wales do? Round of 16

Previous experience of navigating tricky group stages could give Rob Page’s team the edge over USA and Iran, though Wales will need Gareth Bale and Aaron Ramsey to be at their very best from the off.

Reaching the knockout stages would be a remarkable achievement in the nation’s first World Cup since 1958, but going any further than the last 16 seems unlikely.


Bold prediction: Japan to win Group E

It might sound ludicrous given Japan face the might of Spain and Germany in the group stages, but Hajime Moriyasu’s team are set up to counter attack at speed, a style that could prove effective against both of the fancied European countries.

Neither Spain nor Germany are the forces they once were and both have defensive vulnerabilities that Japan are more than capable of exploiting.

Xavi Simons
Holland's 19-year-old Xavi Simons has impressed for PSV this season