I'm counting the days!
No question Brazil will start as favourites - as is usual whenever the WC is hosted outside of Europe. They have a very strong squad with so much depth in every position that club stars like Gabriel Martinelli, Philippe Coutinho and Dan Alves don't even make the extended squad. A choice between two of the best goalkeepers in the world, defenders like Marquinhos, Thiago Silva, Danilo and Alex Telles fighting it out for a starting spot, midfielders like Casemiro, Fabinho, Bruno Guimaeres and Fred and then a host of world class attackers like Neymar, Rodrygo , Vinicius Jr, Richarlison, Gabriel Jesus, Raphina and Antony to choose from makes Brazil very hard to oppose, but they will need to settle on a team and gel otherwise it could be like 2014 when they were hosts and hot favourites and got thumped 7-1 by Germany in the semis. They are not invincible.
Reigning champions France have to be respected despite a poor showing by their standards in Euro 2020. They also have an embarrssment of riches when it comes to selection . . . think Hugo Lloris in goals, Benjamin Pavard, Rafael Varane and Lucas Hernandez in defence, N'golo Kante, Paul Pogba and Adrien Rabiot in the midfield behind attackers like Kylian Mbappe, Antoine Griezmann and Karim Benzema. They will be a tough team to defend against.
We all know that the 2014 champions Germany will be competitive. Like France, they weren't great in the 2020 Euros but it's hard to even imagine Germany not making the semis yet again in a World Cup. Not as many recognisable names as they've had in the past but they do still have a hardcore Bayern Munich backbone in Manuel Neuer, Joshua Kimmich, Serge Gnabry, Leroy Sane and Thomas Mueller along with the likes of Mats Hummels, Antonio Rudiger, Ilkay Gundogan, Marco Reus, Timo Werner and Kai Havertz . . . and der Mannschaft have never relied on individual brilliance but rather cohesive team work and iron discipline . . . which they will have in spades.
England have a fantastic squad on paper but it is a major tournament so it's a question of when they will choke rather than if they will choke. If almost any other country could choose from players like Aaron Ramsdale, Trent Alexander-Arnold, Declan Rice, Jude Bellingham, Mason Mount, Jack Grealish, Raheem Sterling, Bukayo Saka, Phil Foden and Harry Kane you'd have to make them one of the favourites . . . but it is England and it is a World Cup . . . so I can't see football coming home any time soon.
Belgium had an excellent Euro 2020 but you can't help thinking that with the likes of Romelu Lukaku, Eden Hazard and Christian Benteke all out of form that they won't have a squad as strong as that. However, we've seen before how a single player can transform a team in the World Cup (think Maradona, Hagi, Rossi, Stoichkov, Ronaldo (the Ronaldo, not Cristiano), Suker and Milla) and Belgium do have the best player in the world in Kevin de Bruyne . . . so if he stays fit, don't count Belgium out. Also, Thorgen Hazard's sparkling recent form cancels out the poor form of his brother Eden.
This will almost certainly be the last chance for Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo to add the World Cup to their respective CVs and claim the title of best footballer of their generation for once and for all, and both Argentina and Portugal have decent looking squads. Not sure if they have the depth of squad to go all the way but I'm expecting Julian Alvarez of Argentina and Bruno Fernandez of Portugal to have an impact on the tournament.
With Italy out, I would only add Spain and the Netherlands as potential winners but Spain are not the great team of 2010 while Holland - like England - have choked once too often to be considered winners and will invaribaly have one of their team implosions during the course of the tournament.
Uruguay are a team to watch, especially with their potentially lethal attack comprising Luis Suarez, Edson Cavani and Darwin Nunes, but they don't have the same quality elsewhere on the park.
South Korea have a world class match-winner in Son Heung Min Son but probably not enough depth to go beyond the quarters.
Croatia have an easy group and must be respected but I'm not seeing too many new faces to replace their waning stars.
I expect the African challenge to come from one of Ghana, Cameroon or Senegal but not convinced any of them have the ability to become the first African side in the semis of a WC. Hope I'm wrong!
I'll be supporting England (again!) and Wales because of my ancestry, I'll be supporting the sub-Saharan African teams and I'll also be supporting Belgium because of Kevin de Bruyne.
My head says Brazil or Germany.
Bring it on!