The jury rehearsal last night confirmed what a surprisingly strong year Eurovision 2011 has turned out to be after naysayers like myself had it marked down otherwise. A series of convincing performances – with a couple of significant exceptions – should certainly have left the juries with quite a quandary. Punters even more so.
Today I am splitting up my analysis and advice into two sections. I start with markets other than the outright winner one. As I wrote in one of my top tips articles last year, these have proved the most lucrative for me. Then I will watch this afternoon’s dress rehearsal and shortly afterwards post my thoughts on the outright winner market.
Let’s start with my bet of the week, which is to ‘lay’ Hungary in the Top 10 market – this means betting against that outcome. Having started doing this at 1.7 on Betfair early in the rehearsal period, I have been chasing this one ever since and have already amassed over £25,000 of liabilities.
In its studio version, ‘What About My Dreams’ was a disco-stomping fan favourite, on the back of which it got down to single figures in the outright win market. I always had some problems with the structure of the song, and fears that it could be effectively replicated on stage by Kati Wolf.
The rehearsal period only confirmed those suspicions, with practices displaying strained vocals and clumsy staging. To her credit, though, Kati pulled off a good enough performance in the semi-final – when advantageously positioned in the running order – to make it through to today’s Grand Final.
I can tell you that she was not so convincing in last night’s jury rehearsal. She started struggling from the first chorus onwards. Given that virtually every other entry I watched last night was either better performed or more contemporary, I am predicting a bottom 5 placing in a jury vote that doesn’t tend to go for this kind of song anyway.
Nor is ‘What About My Dreams’ well drawn any more. At number 5, it is at least the first sign of a disco beat in the contest, but that plus is outweighed by the minus of being immediately followed by Jedward, Sweden and Estonia – three upbeat pop songs all hugely more contemporary and interesting. Hungary is very quickly forgotten.
Hungary has few natural voting allies, which is why it has scored a grand total of 22 points in total with its last two entries, so I can’t envisage any kind of decent televote score for it either. Thus I will be gobsmacked – and considerably poorer – if it manages a Top 10 placing.
I must admit, I have rather cornered the market on Hungary already. The best price available to lay on Betfair is 3.85 at the time of writing, while Kati is 2/7 on Victor Chandler’s “not to finish in the top 10” market. Still, I think her chance of a Top 10 finish remains significantly lower than even these prices suggest.
There are other ways of betting against Kati’s chances. I have been laying Hungary in the Top 4 and Top 5 markets on Betfair, and there is also an opportunity on Betfair to bet on its finishing position, the favoured option (currently at 1.35) being 11th and below.
You can also back Bosnia to beat Hungary in a match bet, and this is another confident selection – currently 4/9 with bet365 and 1.43 with Betfair. Dino Merlin may well be hindered by the cursed draw of number 2 (from which no one has ever won the contest), but as Balkan music royalty, he is guaranteed to pick up a certain amount of points from neighbours and diaspora that I cannot imagine Kati managing.
So, having recommended laying the most over-rated song in the betting markets, albeit now at a skinny price, it’s time to turn my attention to the most under-rated entry that we can back to finish in the Top 10 – and at least here I am able to recommend a bet at juicier odds than the ones still available on Kati Wolf. I had my ‘Eureka!’ moment on this during the jury rehearsal last night, which is appropriate, because the country in question is Greece.
Their entry, ‘Watch My Dance’, received plenty of initial criticism – including from me – for its original and what seemed rather awkward mixture of rap and zeibekiko (a form of Greek folk dance and the rhythm that accompanies it). It was very poorly staged in the national final and with far from polished vocals (the rap parts came in for particular scorn), many reckoned this would be the first time the country failed to qualify from the semi-finals.
Once it had been given the plum draw in the semi, last of 19 in the first heat, it was felt that it would have to rely on this and Greece’s four voting allies to be enough to see it through to the grand final. Yet it emerged as one of the revelations of the rehearsals. Loukas Yiorkas is telegenic, his vocals have been outstanding, and the staging has been arguably the most effective of any song apart from Finland. It became a definite qualifier on its own merits and I ended up with a significant five-figure sum on it doing so at short odds.
An early draw of 9 for the grand final didn’t seem to bode so well, especially being so close to firm favourite, French tenor Amaury Vassili, at 11. As it had appeared to benefit so much from being the climax of Tuesday’s night heat, I rather dismissed its chances of a respectable finish once it was put in the first half of the Saturday show.
But this all changed with the addition of the second semi-finalists to the running order. Now Loukas and the male angst of ‘Watch My Dance’ is surrounded by bubblegum pop. What’s more, there isn’t anything else like it in the final – the other ethnic number, Bosnia’s ‘Love In Rewind’, being all happy-clappy.
So, in last night’s jury rehearsal, it provided a wonderfully brooding, dramatic interlude to the highly manufactured stuff around it, coming in between Estonia’s (admittedly highly effective) Cartoon Network staging and Russia’s (less successful) MTV video-style performance. Next to Getter Jaani and Alexey Vorobyov, Loukas’s vocals shone, and even Stereo Mike’s rapping seemed slightly less of a problem and more of a prelude.
‘Watch My Dance’ is going to score extremely well in its own region. Although it’s not something that many with more ‘western’ pop tastes are going to appreciate, there will also be plenty of televote points from those countries in western Europe with relatively influential migrant populations in Eurovision terms.
More so than usual, in fact, because the other nations with which Greece competes in this area, Turkey and Armenia, failed to qualify for tonight’s final. For example, in countries like Belgium and Netherlands the traditional eight points to Greece from the public televote, behind Turkey and Armenia, becomes a potential 12.
‘Watch My Dance’ doesn’t have to do more than impress its constituency and be respected by juries for a Top 10 finish. I’ve already argued it does the former. Therefore, I think ‘Watch My Dance’ may not be too far off the televote scores Greece has received in the last two years (152 for ‘Opa’ in 2010 and 151 for ‘This Is Our Night’ in 2009).
And as I wrote in my original article on the song, it’s arguably (though we can only speculate) going to be more jury-friendly than either of those entries under the 50-50 system. So there’s a good argument for thinking Greece can match those two overall results – eighth in 2010 and seventh in 2009 – especially without other top ten perennials Turkey and Armenia.
And what price can you get on a Top 10 finish – something Greece has managed every year from 2004 onwards? 11-4 with Victor Chandler is currently best, though I managed to get on at 10-3 following my Eureka moment.
There is a more speculative and better-priced way of following this train of thought. Yesterday, Sofabet commenter Vytas pointed out that Bet365 were running a handicap market, giving each country a head start of a certain amount of points over favourite France. They went 18/1 each of the runners if you could work out which nation could add enough points to the starting amount allotted.
Greece has been given 175 points. Only no-hopers Moldova, Lithuania and Spain – as well as Romania, on whom I suggest you have a saver at 12/1 – have been given more. I’ve taken the 18/1 offered on Greece in this interesting market, and 14/1 is still available at the time of going to press.
I have concentrated on Hungary and Greece because the draw and other variables have made life more difficult otherwise in the Top 10 market. Finland, Bosnia and Denmark would all have been strong fancies to achieve this landmark, but now have to overcome numbers 1, 2 and 3 in the running order.
That won’t matter to Dino Merlin’s Balkan fans around Europe, but I’d rather take the more certain outcome at similar odds that Bosnia will beat Hungary, than get stuck into it from that draw in the Top 10 market.
Otherwise, Russia and Serbia have a case for Top 10 status, based on the strength of their voting blocs alone. It’s a shame then that Alexeyev Vorobyov and Nina both put up below-par vocal performances in the jury rehearsal, and I’m not so keen on getting stuck into them for that reason.
Georgia and the Ukraine have great draws and voting allies. They will be knocking at the door, but again, I don’t have the strength of feeling here that I can summon up for Hungary and Greece.
Same too with Austria and Slovenia despite their neutral support and good slots in the running order at numbers 18 and 20. I wouldn’t put anyone off backing Austria’s Nadine Beiler for a strong finish, but at 6-4 the value has dried up for a friendless nation in Eurovision terms. Slovenia is similarly lacking in voting allies.
I would be very inclined to lay against Iceland’s plodding effort ‘Coming Home’ but for my fears that a backstory involving the death of its songwriter will garner a sympathy vote, especially coming near the end of the show at number 21.
Based on a messy performance in last night’s jury rehearsal, there’s also an argument for laying the United Kingdom for a Top 10 finish, but if Blue perform as well as their best rehearsal tonight, they will be receiving plenty of televotes.
And of course, there’s also plenty of logic in backing against Ireland’s Jedward too, at current very short prices. But caught in the Eurovision bubble here in Dusseldorf, it’s hard for me to envisage what will actually happen to ‘Lipstick’ on the night.
Thankfully, the cowardly option of leaving alone is always a valid one for any gambler. I’d rather keep it simple and stick to what I think I know. And I feel on more comfortable ground laying Hungary and backing Greece for a Top 10 finish.