Three years after the World Cup in Russia, the European Championship kicks off to beat the grim atmosphere induced by the pandemic.

Euro 2020 Baku
The 11 host cities are ready to welcome the Euro 2020 tournament. Pictured is the center of Baku (Azerbaidjan). (Image: Twitter/Euro2020)

Postponed last year because of COVID-19, Euro 2020 kept its name and the concept behind a historic edition to mark the tournament’s 60th anniversary. Initially, the Euros were scheduled to be played in 12 cities across the continent, with the semifinals and the final being hosted at Wembley. Given the complications caused by the coronavirus, Dublin and Bilbao were dropped as host cities, with Sevilla getting the latter’s games. St. Petersburg and London got Dublin’s encounters.

Euro 2020 kicks off on Friday in Rome, where hosts Italy take on Turkey. All 11 hosts still in the project will allow fans into the stadiums under strict medical guidelines. Much anticipated throughout the continent, Euro 2020 promises to reward football’s faithful with some class action.

The first two sides in each of the six groups, and the four best third-placed teams, will make it to the Round of 16. If you’re curious as to how things might go, here are OG News global football specialist Emanuel Rosu’s predictions ahead of the group stage. Please note that these are only personal views.

Group A prediction

1. Italy
2. Turkey
3. Switzerland
4. Wales

This group won’t be easy for Italy, even though they’re the favorites to claim the first spot. It’s hard to see them winning all three matches, but it’s also difficult to imagine them losing in this group. I believe Italy will get between 5 to 7 points and will go through without any doubt.

Wales is a totally different team than they were in 2016 when they reached the semifinals, beat Belgium 3-1 in the quarter-finals, and topped a group that included England, Slovakia, and Russia. This time, I believe Wales will finish fourth in this group, while the battle for second will be between Switzerland and Turkey, with a small advantage for the latter.

Group B prediction

1. Belgium
2. Denmark
3. Russia
4. Finland

Belgium has a more “tired” national team than they did at the World Cup in 2018, where they finished third. Except for Lukaku, none of their offensive players are in form.

Hazard had a dismal campaign at Real, while Batshuayi barely played at Crystal Palace. Mertens, now 34, only started 18 games from a possible 38 at Napoli, scoring nine goals. Belgium’s advantage consists in the team’s chemistry, and coach Roberto Martinez tried his best to maximize that with his selections. Belgium’s fans hope Man City’s diamond, Kevin De Bruyne, will turn up in good shape despite his facial injury from the Champions League final, while in goal Courtois is the unrivaled boss.

Denmark, Russia, and Finland will battle for the second and third places in the group. I believe Denmark will finish second because their players have been more consistent this season, and I also expect tight margins in the games that decide the group.

Group C prediction

1. Austria
2. Netherlands
3. Ukraine
4. North Macedonia

The Netherlands is regarded as the group’s favorite, but I don’t believe they will run away from the rest of the competition. With players coming en-mass from the German Bundesliga, Austria is in the perfect spot to post a strong performance. The Netherlands were rarely impressive over the past months and might show their liabilities, even in their debut game against Ukraine on Sunday.

North Macedonia is playing at their first major tournament. Beating Germany in the World Cup qualifiers in March gave the national team a different aura coming into the Euro finals this summer. Led by 37-year-old veteran Goran Pandev, a former Inter Milano star, and encouraged by the progress of Napoli’s Eljif Elmas, Macedonia sees every point in this group as a major bonus.

Group D prediction

1. England
2. Czech Republic
3. Croatia
4. Scotland

England is playing all of its group games at home in London’s Wembley Stadium. They should dominate all three opponents and be able to top the group. The surprise might come from the Czech Republic, which will challenge Croatia for second place. Scotland is coming back to a major tournament after a 23-year-long absence. They will play their English rivals at Wembley in one of the biggest derby games in the group stage.

Group E prediction

1. Spain
2. Poland
3. Sweden
4. Slovakia

Spain was hit hard by captain Sergio Busquets’ COVID infection, which affected preparations for the tournament. It remains to be seen how Luis Enrique’s team will come together after a difficult moment. Spain should still be able to win seven points in this group. Poland and Sweden will probably fight for second place, while Slovakia has the smallest chance of progressing. They will definitely put up a fight, though.

Group F prediction

1. France
2. Portugal
3. Germany
4. Hungary

The toughest and also the most spectacular group in the tournament will certainly be followed with passion by fans around the world. 2016 winners Portugal look good, as do the 2018 World Champions, France, who are the bookies’ favorites to lift the Euro 2020 trophy on July 11. Joachim Low will lead Germany for one last time before leaving his job at the end of the current campaign.

The Germans have rarely looked consistent over the past year, but can’t be taken out of the favorites list. Apart from a major confrontation between the teams, Group F will offer a much-anticipated Ronaldo vs Mbappe clash. All three giants in Group F won’t accept less than winning three points against Hungary, who, in my opinion, is the national team with the worst chance to reach the Round of 16.