Sensible? Outrageous? Downright insane?
Here's who our sports reporters think will win the World Cup
It is one of the most anticipated sporting events in the world, and there are no shortage of amateur clairvoyants queuing up to take a stab at predicting who will be perched at the summit of the football food chain at the end of the 2018 World Cup.
All eyes will be trained on the Luzhniki Stadium when hosts Russia face Saudi Arabia on Thursday afternoon (kickoff is at 5pm SA time) and it is no exaggeration to suggest that the Moscow venue will be the centre of the universe during those 90 minutes.
What happens after the opening match of the global showpiece is anyone’s guess and while the tournament rarely ever plays out the way we see it on paper, Tiso Blackstar sport journalists have stuck out their necks and peered into their crystal balls to answer the tournament's key questions.
We asked them three things:
1. Who will win the 2018 World Cup in Russia?
2. How far will the African representatives go?
3. Which player will finish top scorer?
By the end of the tournament our reporters will either be gloating or gloomy. Only time will tell.
These are their predictions:TELFORD VICE
1. Sadly, it looks like boring Germany will be doing it again. It would have been wonderful if Brazil remembered how to be Brazil in the past four years. The thing is, the Germans never forget who they are.
2. Egypt will reach the quarter-finals, which is more a shining hope than a prediction. The rest? Enjoy the first round, fellas. It’s all you’re going to get. Thanks for coming.
3. Deep breath: Thomas bloody Muller. Say it ain’t so Neymar or Mohamed Salah, please.BARENG-BATHO KORTJAAS
Because it would be the eighth wonder of the world if The Flea [Lionel Messi] flies away from football without having hoisted high the games Holy Grail.
He wishes he had the MSN (Messi, Suarez and Neymar) in the Albaceleste but Gonzalo Higuain and Sergio Aguero and Angel di Maria must come to the party.
2. The following is Javier Mascherano's appraisal of Nigeria: ‘‘They’re tough, not just because of their physical power, but because their disorganisation has the effect of disorganising you as a rival. And that’s when teams like ours suffer the most — in disorder.”
Watch Super Eagles soar on a disorganised wing and a prayer to perch themselves on the same quarterfinal nest as Cameroon, Senegal and Ghana.
3. His first World Cup was a flop, on home soil nogal. What better stage than a World Cup to show that you are worth every cent of the 222 euros record transfer fee. The name you are looking for is Neymar.NKARENG MATSHE
1. Argentina. They have come close in the past three championships. This is their turn as they've had a settled team for over four years‚ although they are too reliant on one player.
2. Egypt: Second round; Tunisia: First round; Morocco: First round; Senegal: Second round; Nigeria: Second round.
3. Sergio Aguero.MNINAWA NTLOKO
1. Brazil will win this thing. Coach Adenor Leonardo Bachi has exorcised the demons of the 2014 global showpiece and the Seleção are finally purring like a well-fed kitten. While Brazil are playing with a bit of the arrogance and swashbuckling style of old, Russia will provide Tite, as Bachi is known, with an opportunity to assess how far Neymar, Gabriel Jesus and Philippe Coutinho, among others, have progressed since their humiliation four years ago.
2. Nigeria will go far as long as their traditional Achille’s heels, financial bickering and internal squabbles, do not trip them apart. They have no shortage of stars and it is no accident that they are viewed as Africa’s best hope of going far in Russia.
3. France’s Antoine Griezmann.IAN SADLER
1. France to beat Brazil in the final. Les Bleus have a group of excellent players that runs through the spine of the team. As long as they don't implode as they did in 2010 they have a good chance… and they have a better coach than then.
2. Egypt and Senegal should go through to the knockout stage and I reckon Senegal will make the quarters. If Nigeria get out of their group they could advance to even the semis…but it's a big if.
3. Neymar and Antoine Griezmann will end up with five goals each.MAHLATSE MPHAHLELE
1. Argentina is one of the most balanced teams in the tournament with world-class players in every position, but they will have to combine well as a team if they are to finally lay their hands on the trophy after a long and painful 32 years. Coach Jorge Sampaoli is blessed with the creative talents of players like Sergio Aguero, Gonzalo Higuain, Angel Di Maria, Paulo Dybala and their talisman Lionel Messi, who is yet to deliver something big for his national team. Since they won the trophy at the Estadio Azteca in Mexico City in 1986, La Albiceleste have lost two finals in 1990 and 2014 and this golden generation is under pressure to end the hurt that their country has suffered.
2. In every tournament, one or two African teams always impress and it looks like Nigeria will be the first from the continent to reach the semi-finals. Their build-up has been smooth and coach Gernot Rohr will rely on players like John Obi Mikel, Ahmed Musa, Kelechi Iheanacho, Victor Moses, Odion Ighalo and Alex Iwobi. Senegal and Egypt are largely one-man teams and they rely heavily on Sadio Mane and Mohammed Salah respectively. Morocco and Tunisia, on the other hand, do not have enough quality in their arsenals to conquer the world.
3. Antoine Griezmann will without a doubt end the tournament with the Golden Boot. He has been impressive for Atletico Madrid in La Liga and has a chance of taking over from James Rodriguez, who finished with six goals in Brazil. Griezmann is going to rely on the likes of Paul Pogba, Ousmane Dembele, Thomas Lemar, Florian Thauvin and Kylian Mbappe to deliver the goods.GOMOLEMO MOTSHWANE
1. Argentina will win the World Cup. Every once in a generation footballer we have seen in recent years (Ronaldo‚ Ronaldinho‚ Zinedine Zidane‚ Cristiano Ronaldo) have won a major international title with their country and now it’s the turn of Lionel Messi. This will be his time.
2. Only Senegal will make it out of their relatively weak group. I feel they can make it to the quarterfinals.
3. Thomas Muller is a goal scoring machine for Germany and will top the charts.KHANYISO TSHWAKU
1. Brazil looks like a team that could win the World Cup after their excitingly chaotic 2014 home campaign. Germany, France, Argentina and Belgium lurk as dark horses, while Spain are an unknown quantity after Julen Lopetegui's sudden dismissal and appointment of Fernando Hierro.
2. This is probably Africa's strongest World Cup contingent since the 2002 quintet. However, four of the five teams are in tricky groups. Egypt are in the “easiest” group while Morocco, Senegal, Tunisia and Nigeria are well equipped for their tough groups. Senegal and Tunisia look like teams who can get to the last eight.
3. Lionel Messi.TIYANI WA KAMABASA
Who will win the 2018 World Cup in Russia?Germany. Retaining the World Cup is a difficult ask‚ but I will still put my money on Germany because they have enjoyed some consistency under coach Joachim Löw. He's been at the helm since 2006‚ and that's over a decade. He's won the 2014 World Cup in Brazil and the 2017 FIFA Confederations Cup in Russia. I think they are more ready than any other team.
How far will the African representatives go?Senegal can come out of Group H and reach the last 16‚ but I don't see Egypt‚ Nigeria‚ Morocco and Tunisia making it past the group stage.
Which player will finish top scorer?Lionel Messi. He would probably take Argentina very far in the tournament.SAZI HADEBE
1. Germany, France, Brazil or Argentina have got enough in the tank to win the World Cup. I would have added Spain but after their coach Julen Lopetegui announced that he was joining Real Madrid at the end of the tournament, I'm no longer convinced. What was Lopetegui thinking? Personally, I would like to see Brazil winning their sixth World Cup in Russia after the humiliation in their own turf, being knocked but 7-1 by eventual winners Germany in 2014.
2. Senegal is my favourite of the African teams. Not because they beat Bafana but because they have a better team all round. I think Senegal and Tunisia have impressed but I will go for The Lions of Teranga as the African team to go furthest.
3. Neymar is capable of scoring many goals but if Argentina reach the final Messi will also be there. But I will go with Neymar for a top scorer.NICK SAID
1. Brazil. It is a fairly open field‚ but Brazil have all the star quality and will be burning inside to right what they perceived as the humiliating wrong of four years ago when they were humbled 7-1 in the semifinals by Germany on home soil. That defeat left a stain on Brazilian football that could in part be erased with a tournament victory in Russia. Brazil have lost just one of their last 20 games and have been imperious in the warm-ups‚ with six wins from seven‚ including victory over world champions Germany. The only blip was a 0-0 draw in England‚ while they have only conceded a single goal in those seven games‚ scoring 15 against their opponents.
2. Morocco‚ Nigeria and Tunisia will exit in the first round. Egypt and Senegal will reach the second round‚ but go no further.
3. Neymar. This will be his time to shine.OFENTSE RATSIE
1. The Germans have a 99% chance of defending the title they won in Brazil four years ago. In every single the tournaments they have played in‚ coach Joachim Low’s side have reached at least the semifinal stage. From Euro 2008‚ Fifa 2010 World Cup‚ Euro 2012‚ Fifa 2014 World Cup to Euro 2016‚ the German have never disappointed. As if to cement their credentials‚ Germany will go to Russia perched at the summit of the Fifa rankings and boasting an abundance of attacking options.
2. All eyes will be on Egypt‚ given the way Liverpool star Mohamed Salah has risen to glory in the English Premier League. But his participation remains doubtful as the jury is still out on whether he will be 100% fit to play in the opening match against Uruguay. Egypt could make it to the second round but that is as far as they will go. And please do not raise your hopes too high folks because the smart money is on Senegal‚ Tunisia‚ Morocco and Nigeria crashing out in the opening round.
3. Thomas Muller. The man is the canon in Germany’s arsenal with 34 goals under his belt for the national team‚ and he will be looking to extend his impressive World Cup scoring habit in Russia.DAVID ISAACSON
2. The good news is that an African team will finally reach the semifinals, but that's where it will end for Nigeria against Germany.
3. Thomas Muller.SIHLE NDEBELE
1. For me Germany will defend it because they have laid a strong foundation after winning last year’s Confed Cup. The players who delivered in Brazil four years ago are still there. They've a strong squad where experienced players and youth compliment each other very well. Joachim Löw is the man.
2. I have a feeling that all African teams will be knocked out from the onset. Sorry‚ Salah won't be able to carry Egypt alone.
3. Romelu Lukaku (hahahaha).LIAM DEL CARME
1. The teams most likely to go the distance are Germany and France. Russia 2018 is unlikely to be kind to the South American powerhouses. Brazil certainly have a potent strike force but their defence remain inviting. Mexico may cause an upset or two.
2. Of the African contingent, Egypt should make the biggest impact. They are in a relatively easy group with hosts Russia, Saudi Arabia and Uruguay.
3. Antoine GriezmannXOLILE MTSHAZO
1. Brazil. Bouyed by the fact that they have not won a World Cup since Korea/Japan in 2002‚ and the return to fitness of their star striker Neymar‚ they look poised to regain their lost glory. With Neymar leading the star-studded Brazil‚ the road to the final‚ and victory is well mapped out.
2. Quarterfinals. Actually‚ it is far-fetched to see any of them advancing past the last 16 or second round‚ but one of them might just be lucky enough to reach the quarterfinals - the furthest any African team has ever gone.
3. Germany's complete player Thomas Muller‚ because he is gunning for compatriot Miroslav Klose's record of 16 World Cup goals.TIISETSO MALEPA
1. Argentina. Despite a scrappy and disjointed qualification campaign in which they only qualified on the final day thanks to a Lionel Messi hat-trick‚ Argentina are once again among the usual suspects to lift the World Cup crown. With their galaxy of stars‚ everyone in Buenos Aires will be feeling that the South Americans are due a World Cup triumph having last lifted the coveted trophy soil in 1986.
2. Morocco will have to bring out their best performances ever to get out of a group containing Spain‚ Portugal and Iran. Egypt will fancy their chances against hosts Russia and should qualify for the knockout stage behind Uruguay. Senegal should be too strong for Japan and Poland‚ while Colombia are expected to win the group. Nigeria also have a chance to get out of a group consisting of Argentina‚ Iceland and Croatia.
3. Mohamed Salah. Should the Liverpool star manage to shrug off a shoulder injury in time for the opening match against Uruguay on Friday‚ the Egypt magician should get his name on the score sheet a few times as he is one of the best finishers in the world.
He has scored 44 goals in 51 appearances in all competitions for Liverpool this season.MARC STRYDOM
1. Brazil. The head says that Germany, with the core of their squad who won in 2014, bolstered by youngsters introduced in the 2017 Confederation Cup, with Joachim Loew still coach, and on “home” European soil, should win it. But this is football and the heart must rule. Brazil are rebuilt on a foundation of steel under Tite, and have the most balanced lineup between defensive ability, physical presence and skill.
2. Senegal, Nigeria and Morocco all have the potential to go to the second round, and one of them should reach a quarterfinal.
3. Neymar. After the disappointment of his injury, and the catastrophic result of it culminating with Brazil's 7-1 semifinal humiliation on home soil in 2014, the Barcelona genius is hungry to atone, and also to step out of the shadow of Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi.DANIEL MOTHOWAGAE
1. Germany will defend their title. There is no other team that has built a solid base like the Germans under coach Joachim Loew.
They might be boring a bit in their style of play but they play with effiency, thriving on a regular spine that has Matt Hammels (central defence), Sam Khedira (midfield) and Thomas Muller (target man).
Mesut Ozil is the special player in the pack - the thinker.
2. Senegal looks more like a side that would go beyond the group stage.The Lions of Teranga seem more hungrier and the domination of European-based in their side will give them the edge. Tunisia could also reach the knockout phase.
3. Hard to predict but the usual suspects: Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez will renew their challenge for another Golden Boot gong.CRAIG RAY1. Germany.
Thirteen semifinals, four titles and worst finish of third in four World Cups this century, they know how to play tournament football.
Motivated to become only the second side to defend title after Brazil in 1962, and have the squad to do it.
Die Mannschaft have a straightforward group, easy round of 16, possibly England in quarters (Germany always wins) and Argentina in semis. Brazil or France in the final. Germany’s experience wins out.
2. Senegal, Egypt and Nigeria to emerge from their groups.
Nigeria lose to France in last 16 and Senegal’s adventure comes to an end at same stage against Belgium.
Egypt upset Portugal with Mo Salah doing the damage in last 16 but lose to Argentina in quarters.
3. Romelu Lukaku (Belgium). He could score a bucket load against Panama and chip in with a few against England and Tunisia in the group phase.
A few more in the knockouts will give him about seven goals.
Considering I expect Germany to go all the way, Timo Werner joins Gabriel Jesus (Brazil), Mo Salah (Egypt) and Harry Kane (England) on six goals.