I’m going to explain a thesis which is open to debate but I strongly believe in at this pre-rehearsal stage. I have a few betting strategies in mind that are informed by it, though I’d be interested to know just how many people disagree with the idea before we even get to the implications of it.
My thesis is that the first semi-final is weak and that the second heat is much stronger. This goes against what the outright win market currently suggests: four of the top five favourites from the semi-finalists feature in the first one, including market leader Denmark and now second favourite Ukraine.
Debate on the web seems split over which semi is superior. For me it’s no contest; I don’t know of anyone who believes as strongly as I do that the second semi is a tougher test. Here’s why.
Firstly, when I compare equivalent entries based on their position in the win market for each semi, I’m taken by how much I think the first heat representative is overrated in general and the second heat representative is underrated. For example, take market leaders for each semi, Denmark and Norway. When looking at the outright betting list, I think the former is overrated and the latter underrated.
Moving onto the second favourites for each semi, Ukraine and Georgia: again, I think the former is overrated and the latter is underrated in the outright win market. The same can be said when comparing third favourites Russia against Azerbaijan, then fourth favourites Netherlands against Greece.
There are exceptions, none moreso for me than the fifth in bookmakers’ lists from each semi, Serbia and San Marino. I think the former is bubbling under because of an unpolished national final performance and the latter is bubbling over with spurious hype. But when moving down to the next in bookmakers’ lists from each heat – Belarus and Malta – we return to my pattern. I think Belarus is overrated and Malta underrated.
Looking beyond the top six in the market for each semi, towards the borderliners, I tend to see what first semi-finalists don’t have going for them and what second semi-finalists do. In the first semi I’m not sure of a strong enough vocal performance that’s required for the songs from Ireland, Austria, Moldova, Belgium and Lithuania. In the second semi, singing capabilities are not universally strong, but we have vocalists from Finland, Bulgaria, Israel and Iceland who all confidently carry their song.
Elsewhere in that second semi, Albania and Armenia have voting strength, Romania and Switzerland have been given a chance by the draw whilst Hungary has charm.
Overall, I think the second semi is full of acts that give televoters a reason to pick up their phones, including plenty of strongly performed and/or memorable upbeat numbers that each offer something distinctive. On the other hand, I think the casual viewer may get rather bored by the slowish monotony of the first half of the first semi, before being unimpressed by much of the second half.
The running order of that first semi informs one strategy I have in mind. The market leaders for the first heat are all female slow or midtempo numbers drawn back-to-back in the first half of the draw (with plenty of other female ballads elsewhere). It’s not ideal for any of them. Given this, the effect this heat may have on the casual viewer that I have explained above and my belief this semi lacks strength in depth, I’m looking around for surprise top three candidates at good odds. To take the most extreme case as an example, there’s no way Croatia should be the biggest price of the lot at 150-1 with Ladbrokes going a quarter the odds a place.
Meanwhile, I’m less hopeful of a long-priced each-way reward from the second semi, despite its better strength in depth, mainly because three of its market leaders are better positioned, with the top two very well drawn indeed.
The next strategy will come into play once the envelopes of the qualifiers have been read. It reflects what I wrote in one of my top ten tips articles back before the 2010 contest, entitled From semi to final:
Every year it seems that one semi is stronger than the other. This has been most pronounced in 2010 when at the start of Eurovision week, none of the first ten in the betting market to win the contest were participating in the first semi–final.
Therefore, the weaker qualifiers in this semi-final look highly likely to be in the bottom half of the final and you can bet against them reaching a Top 10 position. Conversely, to qualify from semi 2 with a poor draw and/or a lack of friends is an indication that a Top 10 spot is very possible.
This was an obvious statement to draw given the betting market for the 2010 event, and it stood up: only two songs – Belgium and Greece – managed to reach the top ten from the first semi-final.
My thesis is a little more controversial this time, especially given the high position in the betting market of first semi-finalists Denmark, Ukraine, Russia and Netherlands. I’m not necessarily saying we will only get two songs from this year’s first semi in the final top ten – though I wouldn’t be as surprised as most.
However, I do think it will be more of an achievement to get through from that second semi. Obviously, if an act just sneaks through in one of the lower qualification spots, a place in the final top ten is going to be difficult to achieve. But punters can often get a reasonable handle on who was in the top five of a semi in the process of watching it.
They should bear that in mind when on the lookout for some top ten market value on the day of the final. I know I will be. Conversely, many of the songs that get through from the first semi are going to be worth looking to lay in the final top ten market.
What do you think of the points above? Do you agree that the second semi is a tougher heat and if so, is that having any impact in your search for value? Let us know below.