After four years, it’s almost here!

On Thursday afternoon, World Cup 2018 gets underway as hosts Russia take on an unfancied Saudi Arabia side.

Ok, maybe not the opening game we were looking for – but after that it gets much better (we promise).

Luckily, over on Blue Room Extra, we’ll be following every high, low, twist and turn on our twice-weekly World Cup podcasts.

And ahead of the tournament, our contributors had a go at predicting how the tournament will pan out.

Neymar or Messi for best player? Brazil, Spain or Germany as winners? Who will be this year’s dark horses? And which Everton player will go furthest?

All the answers from our team below.

Disagree? Reply in the comments telling us why…

Dave Downie

Winner: France

Runner-up: Brazil

Surprise package (team): Serbia

Top scorer: Romelu Lukaku

Best player: Kevin De Bruyne

Breakthrough player: Marcus Rashford

Everton player to go furthest: Jordan Pickford

England placing: Eliminated quarter-finals

Matt Jones

Winner: Brazil. Have been set on Spain for a while now, but have been wooed by Brazil in the buildup and with Neymar appearing to be imperious again, they’ll have an edge on the rest.

Runner-up: Spain. Have quality in all areas and feel better prepared for tournament football than they were four years ago. Isco and Marco Asensio will hive them a cutting edge they lacked in Brazil.

Surprise package (team): Peru. Have played some wonderful stuff and picked up some excellent results in the buildup. Getting their spiritual leader back in Guerrero is so important too. Given France’s fragilities, they could spring a couple of surprises in Group C, but they’ll certainly be wonderful to watch.

Top scorer: Neymar. Feels like a redemption story—like Ronaldo from 1998 to 2002—in the making this after what happened four years ago. The rest appears to have revitalised him physically and mentally. He animates this Brazil side and has shown in the two friendlies he’s been involved in that he is razor sharp in front of goal.

Best player: See above!

Breakthrough player: Hirving Lozano. I love the look of this lad and hope the Blues can get him in. A gifted winger that evades defenders with such ease, but he’s also got a bit of devilment in him. That combination of attributes makes him a prime candidate to tear it up in Russia.

Everton player to go furthest: Jordan Pickford.

England placing: Quarter-Finals

Paddy Boyland

Winner: Brazil. The tournament’s most complete side if they can overcome any lingering mental doubts from four years ago.

Runner-up: Germany. One of the three favourites alongside Brazil and Spain, even if I do expect them to miss the know-how of Lahm and Schweinsteiger when it comes to the crunch.

Surprise package (team): Uruguay. A pair of Atletico Madrid players at centre-back, a number of talented midfielders and Suarez and Cavani up front. What’s not to like?

Morocco and Serbia should both be looking to get out of their respective groups, too.

Top scorer: Neymar. Unlike Messi and Ronaldo, the Brazilian has the right tools at his disposal to allow his talents to properly flourish.

Best player: Neymar. 2018 should be *his* World Cup.

Breakthrough player: Take your pick from Sergej Milinkovic-Savic (Serbia), Hirving Lozano (Mexico), Benjamin Pavard (France) and Goncalo Guedes (Portugal) – all superb young players. Timo Werner can make Germany’s striking position his own in Russia, too.

Everton player to go furthest: Jordan Pickford

England placing: Last 16

Sarah Halpin

Winner: Brazil

Runner-up: Germany

Surprise package (team): Senegal

Top scorer: Neymar

Best player: Neymar

Breakthrough player: Ruben Loftus-Cheek

Everton player to go furthest: Jordan Pickford

England placing: Semi-final

Mike De Asha

Winner: Germany

Runner-up: Brazil

Surprise package (team): Serbia

Top scorer: Romelu Lukaku

Best player: Paulo Dybala

Breakthrough player: Goncalo Guedes

Everton player to go furthest: Jordan Pickford

England placing: Quarter-finals

Mark Mosey

Winner: Germany, with typical brutal efficiency.

Runner-up: Brazil, a bit closer

Surprise package (team): The “bigger” nations look too strong for me to allow any real underdogs into the quarter-final, but I fancy Morocco to get out of their group.

Top scorer: Neymar

Best player: On the back of his goals, Neymar

Breakthrough player: From my surprise team, I’ll go for Hakim Ziyech from Morocco.

Everton player to go furthest: Jordan Pickford

England placing: Quarter-final loss to the Germans, of course

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