World Cup newsletter: Infantino’s bizarre FIFA speech, plus our final predictions ahead of Qatar 2022 opener

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Today I feel excited. I feel conflicted. I feel 90% made of caffeine. And that’s because the World Cup is less than 24 hours away. This is the Golazo Starting XI, and if that opening line confused you, just imagine how everybody felt listening to FIFA president Gianni Infantino deliver an infinitely more bizarre version of it. 

Thankfully, the games start tomorrow. So today we’re here to provide you with some basics, to make sure you’ve got everything you need when Infantino finally stops talking.

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⚽  The Forward Line

Back to basics: What to know ahead of World Cup

A very brief, very simple World Cup primer. We have 32 teams paired in eight groups of four. The top two from each group will advance to the knockout stages. There will be matches flying at a breakneck pace in the first two weeks before we get to the final 16. Are these the best 32 teams in the world? Not really. Qualifying is done by region, with each region allotted a certain number of teams. North America, or more technically Concacaf, got three spots automatically plus their fourth best team went to playoffs, which Costa Rica won. So there are four teams (United States, Canada, Mexico, Costa Rica) in the tournament. 

Check out our staff picks for our top four:

CBS Sports

It will not surprise anybody that Europe and South America are the two powerhouse regions. There has never been a finalist from outside those two continents in the history of the tournament, which dates back to 1930. In fact, there are only two nations that ever finished in the top four from outside Europe and South America. Drumroll please … the United States of America (1930) and South Korea (2002). In the inaugural edition of the World Cup, the U.S. advanced out of their group directly to the semifinals where they lost to Argentina. South Korea upended Italy and Spain on their way to the top four.

The favorites, at least according to Caesars Sportsbook, are Brazil at +360 and Argentina at +500. They’re followed by a handful of European teams: France (the defending champions), Spain, England and Germany. And, if for some reason you really, really, really wanted to bet on somebody not from South America or Europe winning the competition well after you get through the Netherlands, Portugal, Belgium, Denmark, Uruguay, Croatia and Serbia, you can look to Mexico, Senegal and the United States men’s national team (along with Poland, Switzerland and Wales) at +100000. Go nuts, kids.

Here’s everything we’re providing to help you keep track of the world’s biggest soccer tournament.

Craving more World Cup coverage? Listen below and follow House of Champions, a daily CBS Sports soccer podcast, bringing you top-notch analysis, commentary, picks and more during the big games in Qatar. 

🔗  Midfield Link Play

Once more into the Ronaldo breach

Before we go all World Cup all the time, the Cristiano Ronaldo saga with Manchester United keeps on rolling. While he’s with Portugal preparing for the main event, Manchester United are back home trying to figure out if they can void his contract after he lit into everybody — from manager Erik ten Hag to front office staff to Wayne Rooney in pubic — last week in an incendiary interview. Chuck Booth looks at Ronaldo’s legacy. 

Broadcaster Eric Krakauer, who has his finger on the pulse of all things Portugal, joined the House of Champions podcast to make note that “as much as Cristiano Ronaldo is a celebrity globally, in Portugal he is an institution.” And on the Bruno Fernandes snub accusations: “Nobody on that team would publicly embarrass him.”

Now, let’s hit some links:

In Soccer We Trust YouTube

Listen below and follow In Soccer We Trust: A CBS Sports Soccer Podcast where your three favorite former USMNT players cover everything you could possibly want to know about the United States men’s national team during the World Cup in Qatar.

💰 The Back Lines

Best bets

Let’s pick some winners for the tournament, shall we?  

All odds courtesy of Caesars Sportsbook.

Winning Continent
💰 THE PICK: North/South America (+140). Yesterday, some dummy with a newsletter told you that England were going to win the whole thing. Today, he’s telling you to pick a winner from North/South America. What gives? Well, the reason I picked England is that if the bracket holds, Argentina and Brazil are headed for a semifinal showdown making it very hard to pick between them. With the continent bet … you don’t have to. Golden Boot
💰 THE PICK: Harry Kane (+800).
Barring injury, he’s going to play every minute. He’s going to take all of England’s penalties, if they get any. He’s a set piece machine on a team that loves its set pieces. And, most importantly, England might have the easiest route to the quarterfinals in the tournament. There’s a reason he’s the favoriteTo Reach the Semifinals
💰 THE PICK: Uruguay (+700).
I’m just a big believer in the strength of South America and this bet reflects that in two ways. First, it hinges on Uruguay topping Portugal in their group (a +188 proposition on its own) and then second, it’s relies on Brazil not slipping up so that Uruguay face whoever finishes second to Brazil out of Switzerland, Serbia and Cameroon. I like those odds on both fronts.

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