The 2022 World Cup draw has finally happened, and the 32 teams are set in eight groups of four ahead of November's first match in Qatar.
Groups have been more balanced since FIFA revamped the draw process before the 2018 tournament, using the FIFA rankings to determine the pots instead of confederations. That leaves this year's groups well-balanced and sets the stage for plenty of fireworks.
Let's get to the early picks...
Odds courtesy of Caesars Sportsbook unless otherwise noted.
Pick: Senegal to win Group A (+275)
Every country wanted to be drawn in Group A with host Qatar, but Senegal was the Pot 3 team that won the lottery. Getting Netherlands as the Pot 1 team makes Senegal's path more difficult, but hardly impossible.
Senegal is as battle-tested as any team in the tournament, having won the Africa Cup of Nations this year and surviving a World Cup playoff against Egypt. Sadio Mane leads a dangerous front line, and Eduardo Mendy and Kalidou Koulibaly form a strong spine at the back. Senegal gave up five goals in eight qualifiers and two goals in seven Cup of Nations matches.
The Dutch have plenty of talent and a good coach in Louis van Gaal. Ecuador acquitted itself well in CONMEBOL qualifying, and Qatar could cause problems, as it did reaching last year's Gold Cup semifinals. But as the second-best team in the group, Senegal is my pick to win it at a good price.
Pick: France to win Group D (-225)
France is the defending champion and still the deepest team in the world. The French B-team might be favored to win this group.
What's not to like about France? Les Bleus obviously have talent and experience. They shouldn't be complacent after a disappointing round of 16 exit against Switzerland at Euros last year. Kylian Mbappe, Karim Benzema and Antoine Griezmann are as potent an attacking trident as any in the world, capable of scoring in every way possible. The three combined for 14 of the team's 17 qualifying goals as France cruised to its seventh consecutive World Cup in 2018.
I like how the schedule lays out for France, which will open as a heavy favorite against the playoff winner, then face its most difficult opponent in Denmark before closing with the likely weakest opponent in Tunisia. They know what will be necessary to win the group and will avoid a probable encounter with Argentina in the round of 16. Anything south of minus-250 to win the group looks good to me.
Pick: Germany to win title (+1000)
Taking Germany to win a major tournament isn't exactly news, though they are only the fifth betting favorite at 10-1.
The four-time World Cup champions haven't fared well at their last two major tournaments, finishing group runner-up to France at last year's European Championship before losing to England in the round of 16. Four years ago, Germany not only went out in the group stage, but did so by finishing last in the group after falling 2-0 to South Korea in the final group game. However, prior to 2018, Germany had reached at least the quarterfinals at 16 straight World Cups, one of the most remarkable feats in tournament history.
Though the prism of European qualifying can be cloudy because of the talent disparities within a group, Germany is looking like the Germany everyone expects to see. After new manager Hansi Flick took over in August 2021, Germany won all seven qualifiers by a combined score of 31-2, with similar expected goals numbers (27 to 3).
Flick has experience taking over a team midseason in preparation for a knockout tournament, having done so with Bayern Munich in November 2019, before leading Bayern to the Champions League title. The potential is there for him to replicate the feat with Germany.