At long last, the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar will kick off this afternoon. Its absence from the summer was felt by many, and it will undoubtedly be a strange tournament on the ground in the Gulf state.
That being said, there is still football to be played, and we're sure we'll be treated to several memorable moments on the pitch over the coming weeks.
The creative team here at Balls.ie have put their heads together to make their traditional (slightly tongue-in-cheek) predictions ahead of the 2022 World Cup. Read on for our team's thoughts on Harry Maguire, a new Australian legend, and an unexpected winner...
2022 World Cup: Outrageous predictions from the Balls team
Gary Connaughton: Qatar to take a perfectly above board World Cup win
Qatar will make a deep run in the tournament, going all the way to the final by winning every game 1-0. The opposition will inexplicably have a number of goals ruled out in each game, with FIFA opting to abolish VAR for fixtures featuring the host nation.
They will beat Argentina in the final after Lionel Messi is sent off in the third minutes of the game for inconspicuous reasons, going to to score an 89th minute winner from the penalty spot. All above board.
Eoin Harrington: Harry Maguire to outscore Kylian Mbappé
With Gareth Southgate choosing to field a goalkeeper, Harry Kane, and nine defensive players throughout the group stage, the onus will fall on the backbone of the team to create what little attacking chances they can.
Their playing style will work particularly well for one player, with Harry Maguire getting on the end of Kieran Trippier's crosses to nod home five goals and take the golden boot. He will celebrate each goal by cupping his ears to a livid Roy Keane in the stands.
Despite Maguire's efforts, his and England's defensive game will let them down and they will be knocked out in the group stages by Gareth Bale's Wales and the USA, complete with the LeBron James of soccer himself, Christian Pulisic.
Sean Meehan: Australia to gain a new hero against France
'The Cumdog' Jason Cummings will score the winner for Australia against France in the group stages - complete with wrestling celebration.
Michael Bolton: Ronaldo to continue his meltdown
Cristiano Ronaldo is going to take all his Manchester United anger out on the opposition in the group stages, with five goals before the knockout stages. Unfortunately for Portugal, he will have fallen out with the rest of the squad in the process, leading to Portugal’s shock exit in the last 16, leading to another interview with Piers Morgan after Christmas as to why Portugal didn’t win the World Cup for him.
England will stutter to a 1-0 win over Iran, a 2-1 win over Wales and draw against USA in a game they should have lost, with Harry Maguire playing every minute if the group stages, alongside Eric Dier and Conor Coady. Their tournament will end in the last 16 to Senegal, with Gareth Southgate somehow still in charge for European qualifying as nobody else will take the job.
Pedri and Gavi will shine for Spain, but Alvaro Morata’s two goals in the tournament will see him make an 80 million move to Bayern Munich to continue the tradition of him moving to European heavyweights for suspicious amounts of money.
Antony will star for Brazil on their way to becoming champions, but his skillful displays will see a boycott of punditry after outbursts over his spinning on the pitch.
Donny Mahoney: A government will be overthrown after a country performs poorly at the World Cup
Not sure which country exactly, though you'd have to say England are contenders for an underwhelming World Cup.
Colmán Stanley: Serbia To Win It All
So far, Qatar 2022 has been the most bizarre tournament in recent memory, and what better place to have a true underdog lift the trophy.
A tricky group stage will have primed and battle-hardened the Serbs for the knockouts, where they will slay the likes of Portugal, Belgium, and France, before taking down Argentina in the final.
Player of the tournament, Sergej Milinković-Savić, will show Messi who the true GOAT is, while Aleksandar Mitrovic picks up the golden boot, en route to beating Just Fontaine's record of 13 goals in a single World Cup.