This article is part of our World Cup series.
The World Cup bracket challenge is always fun to do with friends (or everyone in the world), whether that's at the official FIFA site or any major outlet (the MLS site has one). While it's difficult to get a perfect bracket, it's not impossible to predict every team to make it out of group stages. At the official game, more points are awarded if you predict a perfect group (15 points) than getting the World Cup winner correct (10 points). The best place to start your bracket is to look at the odds, conveniently available in each group preview provided by RotoWire.
I'll use the odds but also take risks in certain groups where the favorite is less defined. The World Cup is a tournament where underdogs rarely make runs to the final, which means it's usually not a good idea to go against one of the favorites.
For me, there are only four teams that have a chance to win it all (odds from DraftKings Sportsbook. If you need to sign up, click through our DraftKings promo code page for a deposit bonus): Brazil (+350), Argentina (+500), France (+700) and Belgium (+1800). After those four, in terms of odds, are Spain (+850), England (+900) and Germany (+1000), and I don't think any of them have enough to win it. France enter as the defending champions in 2018 but disappointed in Euro 2020.
The main thing with projecting a bracket is that having first and second place in each group correct is vital, as the road to the final can look vastly different for each place. For example, first place in Argentina's group plays second place in France's group. If Argentina finishe first in Group C, they could play France or Denmark, depending on how you see that group playing out. How different a point or two can make.
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I think Senegal is a fairly deep side, but the absence of Sadio Mane is a huge blow to the team's attacking options. It's that factor alone that has me taking the Netherlands to win the group despite being heavy favorites. Even without Mane, I still like this Senegal squad and think they can top Ecuador to take the second spot and advance to the knockout round.
- Netherlands (-280)
- Senegal (+450)
- Ecuador (+500)
- Qatar (+1000)
If England were in a different group, I probably wouldn't take them to win it. However, I think there's a real chance they don't allow a goal in these three matches, as none of the attacks in this group are scary. I decided on Wales over USA because I like their offensive pieces a little more, even if Gareth Bale is one of them. It's still a question as to who will lead the attack for the United States, while Wales can at least turn to Kieffer Moore, Brennan Johnson and Daniel James. I'm not sure who steps up for the USA unless Christian Pulisic and Brenden Aaronson really find their form.
- England (-280)
- Wales (+500)
- United States (+500)
- Iran (+1600)
Really, the decision for Group C, and a couple of others, will come down to what you decide to do in the second spot. Argentina are a heavy favorite not only to win the group but to win the tournament at +500. Comparing the Mexico and Poland squads, the biggest X-factor is Polish captain Robert Lewandowski. He comes into the tournament in a bit of a funk, including getting sent off in the final pre-World Cup match, but he remains one of the top strikers in the world.
- Argentina (-250)
- Poland (+400)
- Mexico (+450)
- Saudi Arabia (+2200)
If you want to win this type of competition, you need to have an upset somewhere. For me, that's Denmark and France, which could come down to goal differential if Denmark can secure a draw in their head-to-head matchup. In that scenario, both teams will finish with seven points and it will depend on the margin of victory in their respective clashes with Australia and Tunisia, neither of whom should put up much of a fight in the group.
- Denmark (+225)
- France (-225)
- Australia (+2500)
- Tunisia (+1600)
This might be another spot you could consider trying to play spoiler in the hopes that Japan could pull off an upset in one of their matches with Germany or Spain, but I'm not quite willing to go that far. More likely, this group will be decided by the Germany-Spain clash Nov. 27. World Rankings may suggest the Germans aren't the same powerhouse they've been in recent international tournaments, but I still put my faith in them and their depth of talent. From wily veterans in Thomas Muller and Joshua Kimmich to youngsters David Raum and Jamal Musiala.
- Germany (+115)
- Spain (-115)
- Japan (+1000)
- Costa Rica (+5000)
Is this the time, the year, the tournament that Belgium's golden generation finally pays off? That will be one of the top questions in the lead-up to their opening matches. Regardless of whether you think they can win it, the ridiculous talent in the squad, including Manchester City's Kevin De Bruyne, should see them top the group and advance. From there, it will be up to Croatia's aging core of Luka Modric, Ivan Perisic and Dejan Lovren to keep them above Canada. Don't forget Croatia finished runner-up at the 2018 World Cup in Russia.
- Belgium (-190)
- Croatia (+200)
- Canada (+1000)
- Morocco (+850)
This is probably the most difficult group to predict who, other than Brazil, is going to make it out. Cameroon have qualified for six of the last eight tournaments, though they haven't made it out of the group stage since 1990. Still, they finished third in the 2020 Africa Cup of Nations. Steal a win over Serbia or Switzerland and force a draw in the other and they could easily advance. The safer play is obviously one of the two European nations, but this could be the type of pick to set your bracket apart.
- Brazil (-300)
- Cameroon (+1200)
- Serbia (+650)
- Switzerland (+550)
Portugal are often billed as a one-man squad with Cristiano Ronaldo, but that's certainly not the case with a wealth of talent including Bruno Fernandes, Raphael Guerreiro and Joao Cancelo to name a few. Still, finding a way to minimize Ronaldo's impact will be key. He isn't exactly in form with his limited role at Manchester United and was unavailable for the team's final pre-World Cup tuneup. Their Nov. 28 clash with Uruguay will likely decide who tops the group with Ghana and South Korea not expected to be factors.
- Uruguay (+185)
- Portugal (-145)
- Ghana (+1000)
- South Korea (+1100)
Round of 16
Group A vs. Group B
Netherlands vs. Wales: If you consider Wales may only make it through on goal differential, unless they can secure a win over the United States, then this matchup seems pretty one-sided in nature. Sure, Netherlands have a relatively easy path to winning their group, but it's not like this team lacks talent.
England vs. Senegal: If we were talking about a fully stocked Senegal side that had their premier striker available, perhaps this would be a different discussion. But they don't, so this figures to be a relatively one-sided affair, as well, and could be the fourth-straight victory for the Lions.
Group C vs. Group D
Argentina vs. France: If France find themselves sitting in second place in Group D, then this will likely be the biggest matchup of the Round of 16. You'd have two teams that were first and second in the odds to win the tournament beforehand now squaring off. I'm not sold on this French squad and of course, this may be Lionel Messi's last hurrah. I'll take the Argentinians to advance here, perhaps even on penalties.
Denmark vs. Poland: Similar to the previous matchup, it's hard to say that a Denmark squad that managed to get past France suddenly can't secure a win over Poland. It won't be a cakewalk, but this Christian Eriksen-led squad that includes youngsters Kasper Dolberg, Andreas Skov Olsen and Jonas Wind could make waves beyond just the 2022 World Cup.
Group E vs. Group F
Germany vs. Croatia: Few people had Croatia making it very far four years ago, so they certainly could be the Cinderella team of the tournament. Still, it's not exactly a young squad and their dependency on a handful of elder statesmen could catch up with them versus Germany.
Belgium vs. Spain: With the obvious exception of their 2010 championship, Spain's performances at the World Cup have left something to be desired. They finished third at the 2020 Euros, but this is a Belgian side that needs to finally pay dividends after years of unmet expectations. It's too much talent to go out in just the Round of 16.
Group G vs. Group H
Brazil vs. Portugal: Brazil are the favorite to win the World Cup for a reason. They offer a ton of talent, both veterans and newcomers, and will be hard for anybody to stop. Even Ronaldo, for all his brilliance on the pitch, will be hard-pressed to get past the likes of Neymar, Gabriel Jesus and Richarlison, among others.
Uruguay vs. Cameroon: Up to this point, I haven't really picked an upset. Even Argentina over France isn't that big of a shocker. Here is where you can separate yourself by going against the grain. Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting is getting the chance to shine at Bayern Munich following the departure of Robert Lewandowski and Karl Toko Ekambi has put together a solid start to the season for Lyon. Cameroon keep their run going.
Netherlands vs. Argentina: Another big matchup for Argentina that will no doubt see them favored to get past Netherlands. As much as the storybook finish for Messi sounds great, ending his international career with a World Cup win, I think this is where Argentina run out of gas. The Netherlands, to this point, will have had a relatively easy road and likely will have been able to go deeper into their squad to keep their legs fresh.
Germany vs. Brazil: It's a 2014 revenge game for Brazil, who, frankly, got embarrassed on home soil back in 2014 with a 7-1 drubbing at the hands of the eventual winners Germany. It won't happen again for this side as they look to avenge the loss on their way to the semi-finals.
England vs. Denmark: Whenever faith seems to be flying high for this England side is when disaster strikes. At this point, it wouldn't be surprising to see Harry Kane in the lead for the Golden Boot with five or six goals. With their eyes potentially looking ahead to a matchup with Belgium, could this be a trap game for Gareth Southgate and company? Probably not. I've got them moving on to their second-straight semi-final.
Belgium vs. Cameroon: Eventually, the Cinderella team will come up against too big of an opponent to overcome. That will be the case here with Belgium. They'll cruise to a victory over Cameroon likely on the back of De Bruyne who will drive the attack.
Netherlands vs. Brazil: To be blunt, it's probably time for another upset if you truly want to separate yourself in a bracket pick'em format. This Netherlands squad has a fantastic combination of youth (Cody Gakpo, Steven Bergwijn) and veterans (Virgil van Dijk, Memphis Depay) that are going to be hard to stop. It's no doubt Brazil's tournament to lose and making this pick puts you all in for the top prize or a complete bust, but it's go big or go home.
England vs. Belgium: Can England avoid another third-place match appearance, having lost their previous two outings in the most pointless game of the tournament back in 2018 and 1990? Unlikely, given the talent on this Belgium side. This appears to be the last hurrah for the golden generation and they will want to make the most of it.
Netherlands vs. Belgium: Well, you've stuck with me this far so let's not disappoint in a final that will likely not be in a lot of people's brackets. Belgium have disappointed year after year and Netherlands isn't exactly atop the list of eventual winners. Still, they both have decent odds to reach the final at +500 and +650 for Netherlands and Belgium, respectively. So it's not out of the question.
This would mark Netherlands' fourth appearance in a final, with the most recent coming back in 2010 when they lost to Spain while Belgium's best finish was four years ago, finishing third in Russia. Either way, it would be just the eighth country to have won a World Cup. Jan Vertonghen, Axel Witsel, Toby Alderweireld and Eden Hazard have a combined 516 caps for the Belgium national team and this will finally mark the success they have long waited for. Belgium take a 3-2 victory over Netherlands.