The first semi-final has perplexed me from the beginning as a difficult one for punters. This is due to a weak overall standard, the favourites being drawn back-to-back in the first half and an overload of female soloists.
There’s also an interesting set of three voting blocs: the Balkans, an eastern bloc and a western bloc. The latter is made up of the UK, Ireland, Sweden, Denmark, Netherlands and Belgium. Without many diaspora-rich nations, it’s a more favourable semi for western European countries than usual.
I’ve kept my stakes relatively small and I recommend you do too. My liabilities on the second semi-final and the top ten market for the final are far greater. Nonetheless, last night’s jury rehearsal did clarify some matters. Here’s how I saw it.
I think 6/4 favourite Denmark won the jury vote last night and is winning this semi. ‘Only Teardrops’ came together to match what we saw and heard at the national final. It was head and shoulders a better sell to viewers than the big guns that followed it. My guess is that Russia may be runner-up overall based on a very solid set of credentials.
We have an unusual situation whereby the top four in the betting for this heat fill consecutive first-half slots in the running order. The point I made in an earlier article about searching around for a big-priced outsider to sneak into third place still applies.
I’ve had a small amount each-way on Ireland – you can get 40/1 a fifth the odds with Sportingbet, 33/1 a quarter the odds with Ladbrokes or it’s 7/1 generally for a top 3 finish – because it has everything going for it in the context of this semi.
‘Only Love Survives’ is a contemporary, upbeat song that’s become well sold by a cute male at the right point in the running order.
Ryan was at his best last night: beyond Denmark and Netherlands, I don’t think too many beat it with the juries. Given the significant ‘western bloc’ I’ve mentioned, it could hardly be a friendlier semi for a nation that usually struggles in this respect. It’s a speculative punt, but with all the female soloists performing slower stuff, it stands out far more than I thought it would.
In terms of qualifiers, I have a list of seven I expect to see in the envelopes tonight: in appearance order they are Croatia, Denmark, Russia, Ukraine, Netherlands, Ireland and Moldova.
I think Serbia and Belarus will join them, but it’s worth bearing in mind that at half-decent prices not to qualify (11/2 and 9/4 respectively), these are packages that will not travel far beyond their allies (of which Serbia has more than Belarus). And whilst both acts performed relatively well yesterday evening, they remain visually cheap-looking, upbeat kitsch – the kind of thing juries can really punish.
Which leaves one more space for the full deck. It’s a hard one to call, but I’ve always thought the common sense list of non-qualifiers involved the first three to perform – Austria, Estonia and Slovenia – followed by Montenegro, Lithuania and Cyprus.
I’ve had cause to waver over the last week or so. Estonia and Cyprus were well performed last night, and Montenegro is a wholly leftfield option to consider, but I’m sticking to my guns. Which means I’m putting Belgium through – not with any confidence.
Let us know your thoughts below. I will tweet or comment if there are any significant changes in quality of performance during the third dress rehearsal this afternoon. Good luck and enjoy.