Revisiting ESPN’s 2022 World Cup predictions from 2018

Phil Foden in action for England against Hungary, Wembley Stadium, October 2021 Credit: Alamy
Phil Foden in action for England against Hungary, Wembley Stadium, October 2021 Credit: Alamy

With qualification for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar drawing to a close, squads are starting to take shape and excitement is building, even though the tournament won’t take place until December.

The 2018 World Cup was one of the most enjoyable editions to date, with England narrowly losing to Croatia in the semi-finals, who lost 4-2 to France in the final in Moscow.

After the tournament had finished, ESPN made a number of predictions for the 2022 edition, and with Qatar less than nine months away, now is a good time to revisit them.

England went one step further than the semi-final run in 2018 when they reached the final in the delayed Euro 2020, but lost on penalties to Italy at Wembley.

We’ve broken down each of these predictions to see which were incredibly accurate, and which were well wide of the mark.

The big guns return

The original prediction that the big footballing nations Italy, the USA, the Netherlands, Chile and Cameroon would return was incorrect, as Italy failed to reach their second World Cup in a row following their shocking loss at home to North Macedonia in the qualification playoffs.

Chile also failed to qualify but Cameroon, the Netherlands and the United States have all returned.

It was a stunning goal to knock Italy out…

Ronaldo bids farewell


ESPN predicted that Ronaldo would retire after the tournament and, if Portugal end up winning the World Cup, it’s hard to see the 37-year-old continuing – especially after that clusterfuck of an interview with Piers Morgan.

Whether he is able to produce more magic on the international stage remains to be seen but there will be drama, one way or another.

Qatar become the worst-performing hosts

It’s tough to say exactly which way this prediction will go, but their performance in the 2021 Arab Cup, held in Qatar, saw the hosts finish a respectable third, beating Egypt on penalties in the third place, after losing in the semi-final to eventual winners Algeria.

Qatar haven’t had any top talents come through since 2018, so a run to the latter knockout stages seems unlikely despite the home advantage, and they would need to qualify from the group stage at least to avoid equalling South Africa in 2010 as the worst-performing hosts.

African teams mount a better challenge

All five African contenders exited at the group stage in Russia, but it’s hard to see that changing in Qatar.

Senegal are probably the best equipped but they’ll be without the talismanic Sadio Mane, while Morocco are gifted but face tough group opponents in Belgium and Croatia.

Tunisia and Cameroon aren’t up to much while Ghana have seen their best three goalkeepers ruled out through injury. We’ll be surprised if a single African team qualifies for the next round.

Mbappe confirms himself as the star of his generation

Kylian Mbappe scored in the final and had a fantastic tournament as France won the World Cup in 2018, and he’s only gotten better since.

Mbappe is seen as the heir to the throne of Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo as the best player in the world, with Erling Haaland close behind, but as Norway failed to qualify for the tournament, Qatar will provide Mbappe with the perfect platform to establish himself as the best.

Mbappe missed the crucial penalty in the shootout against Switzerland at Euro 2020, and will hope to bounce back strongly as France look to secure back-to-back World Cups.

Football doesn’t come home

England’s consecutive tournament heartbreaks were predicted to continue as ESPN did not back them to win their first trophy since 1966.

A penalty shootout away from Euro glory at Wembley, Gareth Southgate’s side have endured a terrible run of results in 2022 and go into the World Cup with a lot of uncertainty surrounding key squad members.

Although Argentina and Brazil are be considered favourites, England should not be ruled out of contention.

VAR ends controversy

Back in 2018, VAR was still in its early stages, and it was finally implemented in the Premier League at the start of the 2019-20 season.

However, controversy has not been avoided in the slightest, with VAR being questioned in nearly every single game, and even though some earlier teething issues have been ironed out, there is no doubt that referees, and the technology, will both come under immense scrutiny at the tournament.

Who will win all the awards?

ESPN predicted that the Golden Boot will go to Timo Werner, the Golden Glove to Gianluigi Donnarumma and the best young player to Phil Foden.

Iran were tipped as the team to make a shock upset, and France to make a huge collapse.

The player award predictions haven’t aged well, as Werner has been ruled out through injury, whilst Donnarumma’s Italy won’t even be at the tournament.

Foden for young player of the tournament is still a huge possibility, as the 21-year-old has already established himself as one of Manchester City and England’s best players, although he missed a few Euro 2020 games including the final through injury, with Bukayo Saka taking his place in the team.

Iran will face England in their opener, and were unlucky in the group stages in 2018, but are mostly remembered for an iconic throw-in attempt.

They won’t be trying this one again…

READ MORE: A definitive ranking of every World Cup since 1990 from worst to best

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