France are one of the strongest European teams at the moment and probably my pick for the tournament. It is normally the nation with the strongest squad that wins the World Cup because you have to be able to cope with injuries, suspensions and the demands of playing so many high-intensity games in a short period. I think France have those attributes, but so do others.
My Republic of Ireland team played them in a friendly last month and I was very impressed with their ability as a team, as well as their individual quality. They are an even better side than they were two years ago. I have a lot of time for their manager, Didier Deschamps. He has handled himself superbly since that bitter blow of losing in the final of the Euros to a Portugal side that lost Cristiano Ronaldo to injury. They have regrouped, come again and look like an excellent team.
The issue of big egos in that squad is something that Deschamps is capable of dealing with. Perhaps the toughest part of his job will be choosing his starting XI. Mind you, that is not a bad dilemma to have.
Outside of France, look at the usual suspects. Spain, despite their late change of manager, Germany, Argentina. Brazil are the only team to play in every World Cup and I hope they have got that semi-final defeat by Germany four years ago out of their system. They certainly have a point to prove.
Argentina, despite leaving it late to qualify, will be among the favourites and while I am not a member of the school that argues Lionel Messi has to win a World Cup to be considered one of the greatest players of all time, it would be satisfying to see him do so because it may be his last chance.
Signs look promising for England
I am confident England will do well at this World Cup. There is no reason why they should not. They have a talented squad full of young players and there have been plenty of sides in the past who have done well with a youthful group. England’s results recently have been good and the team spirit seems strong, certainly judging by the words that have come out from those within the group.
Gareth Southgate’s calm and confident approach has been very impressive and the fact that they travel to Russia with less fanfare than previous England squads may serve them well.
There is positive talk about self expression on the pitch and the players go into the competition with great heart. Like all nations with designs on doing very well in the tournament, having talent is one thing but that little bit of luck along the way is a necessary ingredient. Hopefully, the alchemy is right.