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2022 World Cup: Best bets, contenders

In this file photo taken on March 29, 2022, Argentina's Nicolas Gonzalez (L) and Ecuador's Byron Castillo vie for the ball during their South American qualification
In this file photo taken on March 29, 2022, Argentina's Nicolas Gonzalez (L) and Ecuador's Byron Castillo vie for the ball during their South American qualification

Reuters - The 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar kicks off on Sunday when the host nation plays Ecuador in Group A. Twenty-eight days and 63 games later, one of 32 nations will lift the Jules Rimet Trophy.

But who should you bet on to win it all? And what are some other smart wagers along the way? Let's take a look: (All odds courtesy of DraftKings Sportsbook, official as of Nov. 15)

The Contenders Brazil (+400):

The Selecao are the world's only five-time World Cup champions, although they haven't won since 2002. This could be a good time to end that drought. Four of Brazil's five previous championships have come in tournaments played in neither Europe nor Brazil. That's a 50 percent win rate within that sample. And this is one of the deeper Brazilian rosters, built largely with the same players who as U-23s helped win the 2016 Olympic soccer title in Rio de Janiero.

Neymar is still the star, but 10 players scored multiple goals during World Cup qualifying.

Argentina (+500): The Albiceleste are the South American team that has most recently reached a World Cup final, losing 1-0 to Germany in 2014. They also bested Brazil 1-0 in the 2020 Copa America final (played in 2021 because of the pandemic). The Copa America triumph was the now 35-year-old Lionel Messi's first major trophy playing for his country. As he tries for his second, the emergence of Inter Milan's Lautaro Martinez as joint-leading team scorer in World Cup qualifying gives this squad a different dimension.

France (+700): Les Bleus are the 2018 defending champions after winning all four knockout-phase matches in regulation, including a 4-2 final victory over Croatia. They also won their group in qualifying by six points while posting a +15 goal differential. Midfield stars Paul Pogba and N'golo Kante are out injured, but plenty of 2018 heroes remain, including forwards Kylian Mbappe and Antoine Griezmann.

Spain (+850): La Furia Roja won their only World Cup in 2010. But a new generation of Spanish stars impressed in their run to last year's Euro 2020 semifinals, where they lost on penalties to eventual champions Italy. The 21-year-old Ferran Torres led his side with four goals in qualifying. He might be fresher than some other tournament stars, having played more as a substitute than a starter this season for FC Barcelona.

England (+850): The Three Lions also had their Euro dreams ruined on penalties by Italy in 2020 final. Even so, this group has more continuity than in previous eras. Gareth Southgate is managing his second World Cup after England, the 1966 winners, finished fourth in 2018. Harry Kane's 12 qualifying goals were joint-most in all of Europe, and he's in a similar form for Tottenham Hotspur.

Germany (+1000): Der Mannschaft is a four-time winner, last capturing the title in 2014. But Germany failed to advance from their group at the 2018 World Cup and were 2-0 losers to England in the round of 16 at Euro 2020. Performances improved in 2022 qualifying, and the trademark German roster depth is there. But without injured striker Timo Werner, there isn't a clear star.

--Best 2022 World Cup Futures Bets Mexico to qualify from Group C (-120): El Tri looked shaky at times in qualifying, but Mexico has an exceptional record in the group stage, having advanced to the round of 16 in every tournament since 1994. Their hopes to advance hinge heavily on a group opener against Poland, a team of similar talent but that hasn't reached the round of 16 since 1986. And pedigree often appears to matter at this level, even if it's not easily explained.

Germany to win Group E (+115): The bookmakers like Spain slightly more. But Germany has proven far more capable of turning in the knife when they get a lead, boasting a +32 goal differential in qualifying. That could be the difference between a first- or second-place finish in a three-game group phase.

Denmark to reach quarterfinals (+160): The Danes played the majority of their qualifiers without Christian Eriksen, who was cleared to return to play this February after suffering a cardiac arrest at Euro 2020.

His return could give the Danes a double boost, both for his quality on the field and the emotional edge his inclusion provides his team. And if Denmark can edge France for the top spot in Group D, they could face a Mexico side that historically struggles in knockout play. United States eliminated in quarterfinals (+700): The Americans have their work cut out for them in Group B. But if they can advance, they will face a team from Group A, arguably the weakest in the tournament. That provides a realistic path to the quarterfinals, where the end of the line would probably await against France or Argentina.

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