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World Cup 2022 predictions: Picks to win World Cup, Golden Ball

Superstars Kylian Mbappe and Karim Benzema will lead the attack, while captain and goalkeeper Hugo Lloris holds things down in net. But the squad will have to find a way to overcome its injury absences, including midfield maestros Paul Pogba, N’golo Kante and Christopher Nkunku.

Meanwhile, Brazil brings confidence and nine (yes, nine) forwards to the competition in Qatar. Lionel Messi looks to lead Argentina to glory in what is likely his final World Cup.

It all starts Sunday, Nov. 20 when host nation Qatar takes on Ecuador at noon ET from Al Bayt Stadium.

Here’s who USA TODAY Network reporters think will come out champions, score the most goals and turn in an MVP performance:

The 2022 tournament is the last time 32 teams will compete in the World Cup before it expands to 48 entrants in 2026. This year, teams play 64 matches across eight groups of four teams. The top two teams — based on points total and goal differential — advance to the knockout rounds.

While the U.S. might have escaped the dreaded “Group of Death,” it won’t exactly be smooth sailing for the young, talented team. Here’s who USA TODAY Network reporters think win every group in the Group Stage:

A majority of the USA TODAY Network reporters selected France to return to the World Cup final, but no one picked Les Bleus to repeat like Italy did in 1934 and 1938 and Brazil did in 1958 and 1962.

Five reporters have Brazil beating France, while two have Argentina taking down the reigning champs, giving Lionel Messi his first World Cup trophy. The Tennessean’s Drake Hills has Argentina beating Belgium 3-1.

FIFA also honors individual achievements during the tournament. Introduced in 1982, the Golden Ball is awarded to the World Cup’s best player, while the Golden Boot is given to the top scorer. And the Golden Gloves, introduced in 1994, go to the best goalkeeper of the tournament.

Winning it all is the goal, but you don’t have to lift the trophy to win one of the individual awards. Lionel Messi won the Golden Ball in 2014 and could win it again in what’s likely his final World Cup. England striker Harry Kane won the Golden Boot in 2018 when his team finished fourth. And Belgium goalie Thibaut Courtois won the Golden Gloves in Russia when his team finished third in 2018.

So long as the U.S. gets out of the group stage, it’s a success. This is a young group that won’t be in its prime until 2026, so experience is the best thing that can come out of this tournament. The way the draw is set up, they would see some top teams in the knockout rounds and getting a feel for what it’s like to face that kind of pressure in a win-or-go-home game would be big.

The USMNT is getting healthy at the right time. They need to catch a couple of breaks, but I think they can reach the quarterfinals.

 This team is good enough now, and got a decent enough draw, where failing to get out of the group would be a disappointment. After that, all bets are off — especially if they draw the Netherlands in the last 16. But a run to the quarterfinals shouldn’t be out of reach if things break their way.

picked the USMNT to get out of the group, though I can’t say I’d be overly surprised if they have a poor result against Wales to open the tournament and things go a bit off the rails from there. It feels like whatever happens against Wales will set a very clear tone for what to expect from this (very young!) team in the next two games. I think getting out of the group would be a success for this team, given their youth. But expectations will be much higher in 2026.

A successful 2022 World Cup for the USMNT is getting out of the group stage by way of a definitive win against Wales or England. There is an insurmountable amount of questions surrounding the U.S. roster — starting lineup, injuries, form and coach Gregg Berhalter’s final decision on strategy.

How do they want to play? This World Cup is more about answering those questions with 2026 in mind rather than making a run in 2022. Should the U.S. get out of this group this go-around, a loss to the Netherlands in the Round of 16 is probable. And there’s nothing wrong with that.

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