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Caldwell predicts World Cup group stage results down to final winner

Atiba Hutchinson Canada Atiba Hutchinson - The Canadian Press

TSN soccer analyst Steven Caldwell joined host Luke Wileman on the Countdown to Qatar Prediction Show Wednesday night to go through his picks for the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar.

Caldwell chose the two top-ranked teams to advance in seven of the eight groups, with the difficult Group B – comprised of fifth-ranked England, 16th-ranked United States, 19th-ranked Wales, and 20th-ranked Iran – as the lone exception. 

Caldwell chose England and Iran to advance out of the group, with the United States finishing a surprising third.

"I just think Iran have got experience and a coach in Carlos Queiroz that will get the results (with a) stingy defence that doesn’t concede goals. The U.S. is still a bit too inexperienced for me," said Caldwell. 

Caldwell didn’t choose Canada to advance out of Group F, though he did predict a third-place finish ahead of Morocco. Caldwell believes that 12th-ranked Croatia will take the group, with second-ranked Belgium finishing second.

"Unfortunately I’ve got Canada in third place ahead of Morocco but they’re not quite getting through to the last stages – I really hope I’m wrong on this one,” said Caldwell. 

The list of advancing teams is as follows:

Caldwell's Group winners

Group A B C D E F G H
First Place  Netherlands  England Argentina France Spain Croatia Brazil Portugal
Second Place  Senegal  Iran Mexico Denmark Germany Belgium Serbia Uruguay

The most exciting match of the Round of 16 from the left side of Caldwell’s bracket figures to be Argentina and Denmark.

"Argentina is on a fantastic run ... I’ve got them beating a very good Denmark side and it’s going to be a very cracking football match. But I think Argentina and Leo Messi and his gang will get through to the next stage,” said Caldwell.  

Argentina and Brazil are predicated by Caldwell to meet in the semifinal from the left side in what should be a marquee matchup.

"I think Brazil will get their revenge from that big [Copa America Final] game a few years ago. I think they’ve got the quality, Neymar in the semi-final – it’s his tournament. It’s always amazing when Neymar and Messi play each other in a World Cup," Caldwell said.    

One of the big surprises from the right side of the bracket comes with Senegal - who may be playing without superstar forward Sadio Mane - defeating England in the Round of 16 before getting eliminated by France in the quarterfinal.

"I honestly believe that England are going to falter at this stage," said Caldwell. "I don't know if England is in their best form."

The semifinal matchup from the right side features defending champions France versus Portugal by Caldwell's guess.

"In this UEFA matchup I’ve got Portugal making it to the final. I really believe in their squad. They’ve got outstanding talent, they’ve got a good blend, a good mix of defence and attack and I do think they play a good brand of tournament football," said Caldwell.

Caldwell capped it off by choosing top-ranked Brazil to knock off Portugal in the final and claim the country's sixth FIFA World Cup title. "The best in the rankings and the best in form with the most talent in this tournament. I do think they’re going to get the job done," he said. 

As Caldwell noted earlier in the program: while Portugal has talent in all areas of the field, they may be missing the top-end talent that has carried the team for so many years as Cristiano Ronaldo enters the twilight of his career.

"They’re going to have too much for Portugal, they’re going to win the game in my opinion and will pick up the World Cup for the first time since 2002," said Caldwell.