Jason Burt: There was not a South American team in the semi-finals last time round and none have triumphed since 2002 but Brazil, followed by Argentina, are the likely winners. Both have very strong squads – their main challengers remain France – and should end Europe’s dominance.
Matt Law: Argentina. They arrive at the World Cup on the back of a 35-game unbeaten run (W24 D11), the longest in their history. Their last defeat came at the hands of Brazil, a 2-0 loss in the 2019 Copa América semi-final and this must surely be Lionel Messi’s last chance.
Mike McGrath: Argentina. Lionel Messi, probably in his last World Cup, has one last chance and has an excellent team around him.
Chris Bascombe: Brazil. Other than Argentina, I cannot make a compelling case for any other nation… although it could be argued Qatar has already won.
Sam Dean: Argentina. The world’s in-form side has not lost since 2019. The team is packed with speed, skill and defensive determination.
Luke Edwards: Argentina. The romantic in me thinks a Lionel Messi inspired Argentina will finally land the ultimate trophy and give the little wizard a World Cup to match the legendary Maradona.
Jim White: Brazil. Hardly a left field pick, but no other side has the array of attacking talent to match them, not to mention the brilliant goalkeepers and the finest defensive midfielder in the world (and no I don’t mean Fred).
Jeremy Wilson: England. The vast tournament progress under Gareth Southgate is clear and should be a rather better guide to England’s chances than the Nations League.
James Ducker: Argentina. Unbeaten in 35 matches, Lionel Scaloni has ended the disharmony to unite the squad and create an organised, hard working team set up to maximise the rarefied talents of Lionel Messi.
John Percy: Brazil. A very good team, with the experience of big tournaments and the broiling temperatures, this will be their year.
Jason Burt: Given I believe Brazil will win it then Neymar is the most likely star. He is in outstanding form.
Matt Law: Lionel Messi. If Argentina are going to do it, then Messi will have to play a star part and this may well prove to be the ultimate last dance.
Mike McGrath: Jude Bellingham has been at home in the Champions League and adapts to every step up in level.
Chris Bascombe: James Maddison. If he’s picked (a big if) he’ll give England the ‘X-factor’ they have lacked and dominate the group stages against packed defences.
Sam Dean: Lionel Messi. Messi has 11 goals and 14 assists in 18 matches for PSG this season. His last shot at the greatest prize of all.
Luke Edwards: Jude Bellingham. It is always dangerous to expect too much from young English players but Jude Bellingham could well leave Qatar as the most coveted player in the world.
Jim White: Jude Bellingham. The player who has everything. Not least the temperament to allow his talent to flourish on the grandest of all stages.
Jeremy Wilson: Lionel Messi. Although Kylian Mbappe should be even better than at Russia 2018, Messi has been in excellent form and a glorious swansong does look feasible.
James Ducker: Lionel Messi. Now 35, the Paris Saint-Germain forward’s fifth, and possibly, final World Cup could be the one where it all comes together.
John Percy: Neymar. Has still to truly announce himself on the biggest stage of all but this is his big chance.
Jason Burt: I’ve tipped him to be the star, so it has to be Neymar. It feels like he has been building towards this competition all his career. It may be now or never for the 30-year-old who remains Brazil’s main man.
Matt Law: Harry Kane. Antonio Conte has warned England rivals that Kane is ready to take the World Cup by storm and he will fancy getting off to a fast start in the group stages against Iran, the USA and Wales.
Mike McGrath: Harry Kane. Player for the big stage and has England’s all-time record in his sights.
Chris Bascombe: Lautaro Martinez. Any striker with Lionel Messi as his supply line has to be the most likely golden boot winner.
Sam Dean: Harry Kane. The England captain has been in superb goalscoring form at club level and, theoretically at least, should dominate the group stages.
Luke Edwards: Kylian Mbappe. This is always difficult to predict as so much depends on goals scored in the group stage, as well as who progresses to latter rounds, but Mbappe is as good a bet as anyone.
Jim White: Harry Kane. Plenty of opportunities for goals in the group stage, and as he is England’s spearhead, there is every chance every chance will fall to him.
Jeremy Wilson: Harry Kane. Should benefit from England’s relatively easy group, taking penalties and the fact that other potential winners are less clearly identified as their team’s main striker.
James Ducker: Lionel Messi. If Argentina click, Messi should thrive – and that will invariably means goals.
John Percy: Harry Kane. The England captain is in decent form and will put himself in pole position for the Boot after the group stage.
Jason Burt: Not so much dark horses but dangerous opponents – Denmark. They are arguably Europe’s form team. The Netherlands, who are so defensively strong, are also not to be ruled out.
Matt Law: Holland. Unbeaten since the European Championships, Holland have a defence and midfield that can rival any in the tournament. They might, however, fall short in attack.
Mike McGrath: Holland. They have quality from front to back and have a group they should win comfortably.
Chris Bascombe: Belgium. They have done the full 360 degree turn from being dark horses to favourites back to dark horses. Anything is possible with De Bruyne.
Sam Dean: Uruguay. A new generation is emerging, led by the sensational Federico Valverde, while Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani remain a threat.
Luke Edwards: England. England are not one of the favourites and have looked like a squad in decline for the last 15 months but when you have reached a semi final and a final in the last two tournaments, they might just surprise us all again.
Jim White: Senegal. Sadly shorn of their talisman Sadio Mane (for a few games at least), Senegal, with Premier League stalwarts like Eduaord Mendy. Kalidou Koulibaly and Idrissa Gana Gueye still have a depth of talent to surprise. Plus they have a group that should not present much of an obstacle.
Jeremy Wilson: Denmark, who really are too highly ranked to merit this title. Qatar are better than most think but Ghana are the best ‘outside’ bet for a long stay should they navigate a tricky group.
James Ducker: Uruguay. Lots of experience and know how, some interesting younger talent and the formidable Federico Valverde.
John Percy: Belgium. Too talented to not go deep into the competition – though this reporter did back Turkey at Euro 2020!
How far will England go?
Jason Burt: In theory England have a tricky path with a group that will be physical and some potentially difficult knock-out matches… but they can reach the final.
Matt Law: Quarter-finals. Gareth Southgate’s team should not have any problems winning the group. A possible last-16 meeting with Senegal could be tricky but winnable. France in the quarter-finals, however, might be as far as they go.
Mike McGrath: Semi-finals. Quality to get into the latter stages and key players returning from injury at the right time.
Chris Bascombe: If England win their group, they will go far and lose to either Brazil or Argentina in the final.
Sam Dean: Quarter-finals. It won’t be as bad as many seem to fear, but England will once again struggle in midfield against high-class opposition.
Luke Edwards: Will either suffer humiliation in a tricky group or reach the semi finals again.
Jim White: Semi-finalist – Losing to France on penalties. No more need be said.
Jeremy Wilson: See above for a prediction underpinned by a belief that, sooner or later, a country with such passion, resources and talent must surely again prevail.
James Ducker: Quarter-finals. The last two tournament performances will imbue them with confidence but they tend to hit trouble when they meet the best nations and potential path to the final looks treacherous.
John Percy: Quarter-finals. Will fall short at the quarter-final stage and signal Southgate’s departure after a largely impressive tenure.