After punters briefly backed Greece into Eurovision favouritism earlier this week, I asked “can they win?” The answer has been a resounding “no”. You can now back them at 60 on Betfair, more than ten times the lowest price they traded at. That’s a remarkable vote of no confidence.
In a comment to the last post, Sofabet reader Vicky explained why the lyrics of Lukas Yiorkas’s song appealed to the Greek public. But outside of Greece, so unimpressed has the reaction been that the question now is: “Just how badly could Greece conceivably do?”
For punters like myself, who take a stronger interest in the “top ten finish” and “semi-final qualification” markets than the outright win market, it’s a question worth pondering not only for Greece but for the other Eurovision big hitters – that is, the countries which have a head start due to the size of their diasporas and the number of friendly neighbours.
In addition to Greece, I would say these are Turkey, Armenia, Russia, Azerbaijan and Serbia. If they were to pick the worst possible song, what’s the lowest these countries could finish?
Let’s start with Greece. The last time they finished out of the Top 10 was 2003. But this is prehistory in Eurovision terms, because the expansion of the contest since then has given so much more weight to friendly voting. Their lowest result in the modern era was ninth in 2006.
The reintroduction of the jury system over the last two years has tried to combat the effects of friendly voting. But even though the juries in the last two finals gave Greece only about two-thirds of their televote totals, they have still managed seventh and eighth.
Turkey fell out of the Top 10 in 2005 and 2006 (13th and 11th) with songs none but their natural supporters went for. However, that was before their neighbours in the Caucasus started participating – including Azerbaijan, with whom they swap seemingly guaranteed 12s.
Since then, seventh in 2008 is their lowest position. As with Greece, a reduced jury vote compared to televote hasn’t endangered their Top 10 position in the last two years.
Armenia started taking part in 2006, and the fact that they achieved two eighth places with their first two nondescript entries told its own story about the predictability of friendly voting.
The switch to 50% jury voting almost knocked them out of the Top 10 in 2009 with the very ethnic and not very universal ‘Jan Jan’. But not quite. Despite only managing only 15th place with the juries, their 9th place in the televote put them in an overall tenth place.
Azerbaijan also has never finished out of the Top 10, their debut eighth (how very Armenian of them) with the crazy ‘Day After Day’ in 2008 being their lowest position yet.
But none of these countries has really tested the “how low can you go” question as much as Russia or Serbia.
After finising 11th in 2009 (17th with juries and 8th in the televote), Russia seemingly set out to see how badly they could do in 2010 by sending the aptly-named ‘Lost and Forgotten’. The answer? They were 11th again, this time with 90 overall points instead of 91.
Serbia’s 2010 entry tested the power of the juries, who absolutely loathed it, placing it 21st. A tenth place in the televote, however, lifted it up to 13th overall.
On the evidence so far, then, it seems that even with the most underwhelming entries the Eurovision big-hitters are likely to be knocking on the door of the top ten in the final. If, that is, they can get out of the semi-final – something which could actually be a bigger challenge.
That’s because the division of the countries into the two heats is done from allocated pots, with the explicit aim of dividing up the natural regional voting blocs such as the Balkans.
For example, Serbia failed to get out of their semi in 2009 with ‘Cipela’. Under a now-obsolete system, its semi-final tenth place under 100% televoting was given to another song, higher placed by the juries but not yet already qualified.
The problem for the big hitters is compounded in 2011 by the remarkable fact that they are all drawn in the first semi-final. Not only that, their competition also includes some other countries with a fair few voting allies (Georgia, Albania and to a lesser extent, Portugal) and the pre-contest favourite at the time of going to press (Norway).
So, things could get very messy indeed on that night of the first semi-final, May 10th. A country or two with a fine record could find its name not among the qualification envelopes at all. Cue the ‘where did it all go wrong’ post-mortems.
For the big hitters who see it through this stage, though, the reunion with all of their voting allies in the final should ensure even the worst songs among them will be in with a fighting chance of a top ten finish.