I’ve said on a number of occasions that I thought the second semi-final was the more clearcut. That was because, before rehearsals, it seemed to contain four or five strong entries that looked clearcut qualifiers – as well as some of the more obvious hopeless cases.
However, as is often the case, the complexion of this heat has changed during the rehearsal period. Some of those near the top of the betting market have wobbled, whilst among the mass of apparent dross, there are glimmers of hope.
Here I give my take on this semi following last night’s jury rehearsal, and the various betting markets that revolve around it. As on Tuesday, I don’t expect to be correct with every call, but as that night reminded me, gambling involves finding the knack of maximising profit where you are proved right and minimising loss where you are proved wrong.
I think that two countries are in the running to win this semi-final: Denmark and Bosnia. I’m tempted to tip Bosmark or Dennia. It is such a marginal call which one to advise.
Denmark provides the ideal song at the ideal time of the draw. The lead singer played the cameras to great effect in last night’s jury rehearsal, and even his frantic sprint down the catwalk and back worked better than it had done previously. In a crowded arena tonight, this is going to look very powerful.
I’ve signposted that a bet on A Friend in London to win the semi looked like good value on a couple of occasions – at 13/2 shortly after the draw was made a few months ago, and at 11/2 after the first rehearsal here in Dusseldorf. If you had taken either of those prices, you have reason to be happy. At the time of writing they sit at a best price of just over 4/1 on Betfair.
It also gives you even more reason to corner this market by backing Bosnia to win this semi-final (best price of 7/2 at the time of writing). All things considered, it is Dino Merlin who just gets the nod as the Sofabet selection, even though he is opening the show.
‘Love In Rewind’ is a heart-warming, hook-laden song that provides a great start to proceedings. The juries are going to lap it up. Even more importantly, as Balkan music royalty, Dino Merlin can rely on neighbours and supporters around Europe. In this semi, they are numerous, and in my view that just gives Bosnia the edge over Denmark despite their respective positions in the running order.
In Eurovision terms, this semi contains plenty of countries that favour songs with a more eastern flavour or origin, as well as many western nations with a significant Balkan diaspora: Germany, France, Netherlands, Denmark, Austria and Sweden. It’s actually a job finding countries that won’t be automatically chucking Dino plenty of points (the two Baltics, Ireland, Belgium and Israel are the ones that spring to mind).
You cannot say the same about Denmark, despite the fact that ‘A New Tomorrow’ is a song in a position that will hoover up plenty of points across the board. So, Bosnia just gets the nod as the selection – but you may like a saver on Denmark to cover your bet.
The three other songs that are the highest ranked with bookmakers are, I think, well worth opposing in the win market. Estonia, Ireland and Sweden offer nothing so jury-friendly and universal as Bosnia or Denmark. In fact, I don’t even have any of them down as definite qualifiers, though I still do expect them all to squeeze in.
Estonia has received the most damning rehearsal reports, but I think all three songs are as much about staging as vocals, and in this respect at least the routine to ‘Rockefeller Street’ has tightened up significantly.
You can make an argument that Sweden’s ‘Popular’, as the worst drawn and least contemporary of the three, is in the most danger – but the performance was reasonably slick in the jury rehearsal last night, and we did get some smashed glass.
Ireland’s Jedward are now a ridiculously short price – at the time of writing they are best-priced at an astonishing 6.32 on Betfair to win the whole competition. This is based mainly on the hype that they and their management have managed to create and – as I commented to Justin just now – from where I’m sitting in the press centre, this does look like a great lay opportunity for those with the inclination to play at such short odds.
Incidentally, for those who aren’t familiar with the UK’s X Factor – from where Jedward got their start in 2009 – you may get some insight into how the combination of hype and betting exchanges can create some lay opportunities by reading this account of my £28,000 lay of Wagner in last year’s competition. Essentially the same thing happened with Jedward in their year.
Back to tonight’s semi, and ‘Lipstick’ has a great draw as well as an entertaining performance going for it, but I can’t see it managing a podium finish, and I think it is well worth laying Ireland in the Top 3 market for this semi on Betfair.
I do expect all of those big five in the win market to get through to Saturday, but their qualification odds are all fairly short. So where do we look for our selections in the qualification market?
Nadine Beiler for Austria has wowed observers all week and should be backed to qualify at a current top price of 1.33. Based on the jury rehearsal, I can see her with a three-figure score from juries, which would be enough to see her through despite the drawbacks of a terrible draw and a lack of voting allies.
Supporters of ‘The Secret Is Love’ have jumped to the song’s defence when I have questioned how contemporary it is. But despite these reservations, I have always felt it is a great showcase for her vocal talents that would work very well on the Eurovision stage. Add the dry ice and asymmetric bob she sported in last night’s jury rehearsal, and we have an entry that really should go through.
Romania’s ‘Change’ is just as dated, it’s true, but it’s also well sold by Hotel FM, well drawn, and can claim plenty of voting allies in this semi-final. I have it down as a near-certain qualifier, and I have taken prices from 1.6 down to 1.25 on Betfair. But I’m not going to recommend it at even shorter odds for something that peddles plenty of cheesiness, even by Eurovision standards.
My other selection to qualify at a much better price (1.87 as I write) is Romania’s neighbour and close cousin, Moldova. Like Bosnia and Romania, there are plenty of voting allies for Zdob si Zdub’s ‘So Lucky’. We know this because we can track the points received when the band came sixth in the 2005 contest, and we also know they have a strong following in both Romania and ex-USSR states.
Therefore, as well as the very likely Romanian 12, Moldova can look to high marks from Ukraine, Belarus, Israel, Latvia, and Estonia. I also have hopes for a few points from countries where there are Romanian or Moldovan diasporas, including Cyprus, France, Italy and Austria, and possibly also Ireland and Bulgaria.
The case against is that ‘So Lucky’ is a far inferior song to their first Eurovision entry, whilst the staging is gimmick-y and possibly not jury friendly. All this is true, but nonetheless the band does a brilliant job in engaging with the cameras and selling it. They certainly did so last night in the jury rehearsal.
The clincher for me is that Zdob si Zdub are drawn following a run of dull ballads or mid-tempo numbers. That makes them a wake-up call for the semi and, as a result, they should be winning over some neutrals too.
So that’s eight of the ten spots filled in my list so far (Austria, Bosnia, Denmark, Estonia, Ireland, Moldova, Romania, Sweden). I can give my call for who else I think will go through, although by this point it’s getting much less clear for me.
I am discounting The Netherlands, Belgium, Slovakia, Cyprus, Macedonia and Belarus. Of those, Cyprus may be the most controversial choice, but I think everything about it is too bland to have enough impact.
That leaves Ukraine, Bulgaria, Israel, Slovenia and Latvia fighting for my two places. I wouldn’t be shocked to see any of these nations pulled out of the envelopes, but based on strength of performance in the jury rehearsal alone, I will go with Bulgaria and Slovenia, who are the most deserving of these.
Slovenia’s Maja Keuc gobbled a line but it was barely noticeable and she was otherwise in great form last night. I just hope they choose a different 15 seconds of ‘No One’ for the reprise, as last night we had a warbly part of the song containing too many long shots.
Bulgaria’s Poli Genova unfortunately ditched the black jacket, reverted back to her original outfit, and got her feather earring caught in her mouth, which was also shown in the reprise. Again, despite these minor issues, it was another extremely strong performance of ‘Na Inat’.
I didn’t think the Latvian duo were in quite such good voice last night. Dana International clearly has a ball strutting down the catwalk, but she can’t disguise the horrible 90s production behind ‘Ding Dong’, an issue which is just as bad as Croatia’s ‘Celebrate’.
On the flip side of the coin, I’m still of the opinion that the Ukrainian sand gimmick takes away too much focus from the song, and for this reason it is my shock non-qualifier of the night.
In summary, then, Bosnia is my win selection for the semi, and if you’re not already on Denmark I wouldn’t put anyone off having a saver. I am laying Ireland in the top 3 market, although I expect Jedward to go through alongside other fancied runners Romania, Estonia and Sweden. Austria and Moldova are my better-priced selections in the qualification market.
Elsewhere, I’m not so sure, but for the necessity of completing the top 10 list, I am marginally choosing Bulgaria and Slovenia over Ukraine, Latvia and Israel.
Once again, good luck to all concerned, and please do let us know your own tips in the comments box below. If there’s anything to share after the final dress rehearsal I’ll post it below, along with reactions to the results and the completion of the final draw tonight.