Photo: EURO
Photo: EURO

With the long-awaited kickoff ofEuro 2020 only hours away, it’s time for the last group stage predictions to come in. A wild ride is awaiting us and I did my best to predict the outcomes of an incredibly balanced group stage. None of the six groups have a clear standout and the storylines are as many as they are intriguing. We may have had to wait an extra year for the Euros to finally get going, but as they say, a pleasure delayed is a pleasure heightened.

The countdown to UEFA EURO 2020 is well and truly on, with 24 teams set to vie for the trophy between 11 June and 11 July.

Group A: Turkey, Italy, Wales, Switzerland

Group B: Denmark, Finland, Belgium, Russia

Group C: Netherlands, Ukraine, Austria, North Macedonia

Group D: England, Croatia, Scotland, Czech Republic

Group E: Spain, Sweden, Poland, Slovakia

Group F: Hungary, Portugal, France, Germany

Predictions for Group A

Photo: Getty Images
Photo: Getty Images

Winner - Italy: While Turkey could cause the Azzurri some problems in the tournament opener, Roberto Mancini’s side should book first place. Injuries to Lorenzo Pellegrini and Stefano Sensi give the tactician a slight headache but the stacked midfield department should ease their exits. The biggest question marks will be how the aging duo of Bonucci-Chiellini fares, along with who Mancini picks to lead the front line.

Second place - Turkey: A close second will be Turkey, managed by Şenol Güneş. Burak Yilmaz, Yusuf Yazici, and Hakan Calhanoglu form a tricky attack and Turkey has potential to be a dark-hourse.

Third place - Switzerland: The Swiss miss out on the top two but still advance to the knockout stages as a third place side.

Fourth place - Wales: Wales will round out Group A with Gareth Bale and Co. unable to repeat the heroics of 2016.

Predictions for Group B

Photo: Getty Images
Photo: Getty Images

Teams: Belgium, Denmark, Finland, Russia

The top-ranked team in the FIFA World Rankings should cruise to first place in Group B. Belgium has an overwhelming talent advantage over Denmark, Finland and Russia.

Romelu Lukaku will be one of the top contenders for the Golden Boot. He produced 30 goals across all competitions for Serie A champion Inter Milan, and he has 60 goals in 93 international appearances.

Lukaku will not face stiff group competition as other top forwards in the competition will. Denmark, Finland and Russia all finished second in their respective qualifying groups, and Russia was second to Belgium in Group I.

Belgium defeated Russia by a combined 7-2 score in their two qualifying matches, and the Russians earned a single clean sheet in five matches this year.

Roberto Martinez's team could take away Russia's home-field advantage in St. Petersburg right away on June 12. Denmark is the other host country in Group B.

Denmark lost 4-2 to Belgium in the UEFA Nations League on November 18, and Finland has not won in its last six games.

Belgium should top Group B with relative ease.

Each of the other three teams has some strong individuals who could propel them to second place. Denmark has Kasper Schmeichel in goal and Christian Eriksen likely to create most chances in the final third; Finland could go as far as Teemu Pukki takes it; and Russia should rely on Artem Dzyuba, who had eight goals in qualifying.

Finland is playing in its first major international tournament, Russia has not made it out of the Euro group stage in the last two tournaments and Denmark last advanced to the Euro knockout round in 2004. None of those statistics are promising, so it may be worth putting trust in the team with the best goalkeeper and experience throughout its spine.

In Schmeichel, Simon Kjaer, Christian Eriksen and Yussuf Poulsen, Denmark has a ton of club and international experience that should help it get through a wide-open race for second.

Prediction: 1. Belgium, 2. Denmark, 3. Russia, 4. Finland

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Predictions for Group C

Winner - Netherlands: While it’s difficult to imagine Frank de Boer finding success on a stage as big as the Euros after his recent, uh, bumpy tenues at a handful of clubs, the quality on the Netherlands is too much for a group stage exit.

Second place - Ukraine: Another potential dark horse, Ukraine will fight it out with the Oranje for the top seed until the final matchday.

Third place - North Macedonia: In its first-ever major tournament, Goran Pandev-led North Macedonia will pick up a shock third-place finish.

Fourth place - Austria

Predictions for Group D

Photo: Getty Images
Photo: Getty Images

Teams: Croatia, Czech Republic, England, Scotland

Group D's opening match at Wembley Stadium between Croatia and England should be a clash of the group's two automatic qualifiers to the knockout round.

Croatia is looking for an encore to its runner-up position from the 2018 World Cup and has a wealth of experience with the likes of Luka Modric, Ivan Perisic and Domagoj Vida in the squad.

It should make life difficult for England in the opener. Croatia has experience on the big-game stage against the Three Lions, and Modric could dictate the pace of the match to take England out of its attacking rhythm.

England faces an immense amount of pressure after reaching the final four of the 2018 World Cup. The Three Lions are trying to get past the quarterfinals at the Euros for the first time since 1996.

Trent Alexander-Arnold's injury hurts the English back line, but Gareth Southgate has plenty of options to choose from on the defensive flanks, including Kyle Walker and Kieran Trippier.

In Harry Kane, Raheem Sterling and Marcus Rashford, the Three Lions have one of the strongest forward groups of the 24 teams. Kane could be one of the favorites to challenge Lukaku for the Golden Boot.

Even if England does not beat Croatia, it will be expected to get four to six points from the matches with the Czech Republic and Scotland to safely advance.

Scotland and the Czech Republic could have their fates decided in their opener at Hampden Park, unless either team can secure an upset win over one of the two group favorites.

Both third-place contenders could struggle to find goals. Patrik Schick has 10 international goals, but he has been inconsistent in the Bundesliga over the last two seasons. John McGinn is the only Scottish player with double-digit international goals.

The Czechs have more international experience on their side, and their pressing system may trouble England and Croatia for stretches, but they will need more production out of Schick to advance.

Prediction: 1. Croatia, 2. England, 3. Czech Republic, 4. Scotland

Predictions for Group E

Winner - Spain: La Furia Roja may be far removed from its golden generation, but it still has the quality to top Group E. A deep run, however, might be beyond Luis Enrique side’s abilities.

Second place - Sweden: The Swedes will struggle without the injured Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Dejan Kulusevski (COVID-19) but Isak will pick up the scoring load to guide his country into second.

Third place - Slovakia: Slovakia may be widely expected to finish last, but with Milan Skriniar in defense anything is possible. A narrow victory over Poland on Matchday 1 will be enough to send the Poles into fourth.

Fourth place - Poland

Predictions for Group F

Teams: France, Germany, Hungary, Portugal

The Group of Death has three legitimate title contenders.

Hungary, playing in its second major competition in the last 30 years, could finish with zero points.

France, with one of the deepest rosters we have ever seen at an international tournament, is viewed as the favorite to hoist the trophy.

The strikeforce of Kylian Mbappe, Karim Benzema, Olivier Giroud, Antoine Griezmann and Kingsley Coman would be enough to win Les Bleus a few games on its own.

Add in Hugo Lloris in net, a defense headlined by Raphael Varane and a midfield controlled by N'Golo Kante, and you have a bona fide superteam.

France should be favored in every game it plays at the Euros, even against two traditional powers in Germany and Portugal.

Germany could be the most vulnerable of the three favorites to advance because it is in a transitional phase with a younger generation of players stepping into the squad. Manager Joachim Low will also leave the program after the tournament.

Plenty of eyes will be on Timo Werner after he went through a frustrating first season with Chelsea. If Germany gets the Werner from his RB Leipzig days, it could be a force in the final third.

If not, Thomas Muller, Leroy Sane, Serge Gnabry and others will be tasked with picking up the goal-scoring contributions.

Scoring should not be a problem for a Portugal team led by Cristiano Ronaldo, Andre Silva, Joao Felix and Bruno Fernandes.

Portugal is capable of being the highest-scoring team in the group stage, and its final-matchday showdown with France could be the best match in that part of the tournament.

Hungary will be lucky to earn more than a point in its tough draw. Dominik Szoboszlai, who is the biggest name in the national team setup, was ruled out of the tournament because of injury issues.

Prediction: 1. France, 2. Portugal, 3. Germany, 4. Hungary

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