Favourable draw means 2018 winners can make it to the semi-finals before facing a fellow big gun
And, you know what, I’m sticking with that prediction – if not very resolutely as we get ready for this first-ever desert World Cup, and this first-ever northern hemisphere winter World Cup.
Back then, I’d an idea that Paul Pogba and N’Golo Kante would miss the tournament… and now we hear that Karim Benzema is also out of the competition due to an injury in training in recent days.
Now, France have also lost a first-choice centre-back in Presnel Kimpembe of PSG – and Manchester United’s Rafael Varane is struggling to be fit, too.
But I’m sticking with them and their glorious attack of Kylian Mbappe, Karim Benzema, Antoine Griezmann and Olivier Giroud to come good when it matters over the next six weeks.
For one thing, France are on the right side of the World Cup draw in Group C.
It means they can get as far as the semi-final before running into any of Brazil, Germany, Spain, Belgium, Portugal or Croatia.
And if France and Argentina win their groups, Les Bleus can’t then meet Lionel Messi and his Albiceleste team-mates until the final itself.
It’s looks a safe enough passage all the way to the December 18 decider – and the French will be looking to take advantage of that.
Yes, some of the heroes of 2018 ago will be missing.
But new, young, class acts like midfielders Aurelien Tchouameni and Eduardo Camavinga (both Real Madrid) and Arsenal’s exciting centre-back William Saliba are all available to manager Didier Deschamps as he bids to defend the World Cup.
Who will stand in his way? Brazil and Argentina, of course. They are the favourites with the bookies – and they rarely get it wrong.
Argentina have that man Messi and a forward line of talent around him.
Have they got the whole package, though?
As I look through their squad, I don’t see a Daniel Passarella among their centre-halves or a Giorgio Chiellini, a defender who would die rather than let a forward past him.
Almost all of Brazil’s squad are with European clubs, yet Samba chief Tite has pulled them together as a serious force.
Much depends for Brazil on superstar Neymar having a big tournament and on Chelsea’s Thiago Silva at the back.
But the latter is 38 now. The big question is: can he keep going for match after match in this condensed World Cup?
What’s more, he’s at his best in a defensive set-up of three centre-halves and two wing-backs.
Tite, however, prefers a flat back four – will it work for Thiago?
One team I’d love to see go well is Belgium. There is no better keeper than Thibout Courtois and they can match anyone for creative and scoring talent in the likes of Kevin De Bruyne, Romelu Lukaku, Eden Hazard and Youri Tielemans.
Yes, I know, far too many of their defenders are well past the age of 30. That will hurt the Red Devils in the Qatar heat and with the need to play every four or five days.
But it was only the eventual champions– France in 2018, and Italy in last year’s Euros – who put them out of the last two tournaments.
And this may be this Belgian golden generation’s last chance to win big.
As an outsider, I give you Croatia. And it’s strange to see that the beaten finalists of the last World Cup are outsiders.
Admittedly, they have lost quite a few of that squad to age and retirement, and so aren’t given much of a chance.
Yet, with Luka Modric still playing for the Croats, albeit at the age of 37, you have to respect them.
Modric is the most wonderful footballer, almost casually strolling around a pitch, dictating the flow of any game he plays in.
Their squad contains players like Matteo Kovacic (Chelsea), Ivan Perisic (Spurs), Marcelo Brozovic (Inter) and Josip Stanisic (Bayern Munich) who play at Europe’s top clubs and do not lack experience.
As a ‘springer’ to watch at the World Cup, I give you Croatia’s young centre-back-cum-full-back Josko Gvardiol from RB Leipzig.
All of Europe’s elite clubs are already on the trail of this 20-year-old.
If he has a big few weeks at the World Cup, I’ve no doubt the chequebooks will be out in January.
But, for me, it is a resurgent France to win it all again, putting England out in the quarter-final en route.