Eurovision is upon us. Tonight’s first semi-final contains the usual caveats: there are only 16 countries chasing ten qualifying spots; a points total in the 40s may well be enough; we are likely to get 4-5 jury-only votes; thus a rogue jury score or two could make all the difference between getting through or not. (At least in the final top ten market, there’s a more competitive field of 27, and a points total of at least 70 required.)
With that in mind, here are my thoughts based on watching run-throughs in the press centre this week, including last night’s crucial dress rehearsal which national juries have voted on.
The market sees this semi as a two-horse race between Russia and Estonia, and I think that’s right. Russia are 4/6 favourites and have an awful lot going for them, not least a strong song and performer. This heat is packed with allies and a great slot in the running order is the cherry on the cake. Estonia are 3/1 and without these advantages, but their staging has really come together, and the duet wowed in last night’s rehearsal. I have been dutching both at bigger prices for the semi win, and won’t recommend either at these prices, though I think Estonia offers better value.
I think the two other two certain qualifiers are Greece and Romania, who seem most likely to fight out third place. Both are performed charismatically in a way that elevates their songs, though I thought Romania was pretty melodic in the first place. ‘De la Capat’ has much more genuine gravitas, and that would be my preference for the bronze medal position in this heat.
I wouldn’t rule out Georgia or Belgium grabbing a podium finish, but there are a few uncertainties about both which means I can’t even put them on my definite qualifier list. Georgia’s Nina is ill, which showed in a very flat performance in the first dress rehearsal. Fortunately she was able to raise her game for the juries last night, but I couldn’t go in big on qualification at a short price without seeing how she continues to cope tonight.
I would prefer Belgium’s Loic to tone down some of the more leftfield choreography, but there’s no denying the artistic commitment he’s making here, and it could result in an elevated placing in this semi-final. An early draw and a rather eastern field means I can’t have it in my definite list, but the final would be poorer without it.
That brings us to Armenia which I also have in my probable pile – not based on song, but on allies in this semi. When the song is an unsubtle reference to a highly politicised historical event, it’s handy to have a few Orthodox Christian brethren in your corner, and they’re here in this semi. The sextet were not at their best in last night’s jury rehearsal, and neutrals won’t be persuaded, so I don’t think their place in the final is cut-and-dried.
Three more to qualify, and we’re getting firmly into borderline territory. There are various valid strategies to complete one’s qualifier list and leave six off it: you can take very seriously the highly eastern nature of this semi and base your decision on possible allies; or you can take the approach of discarding what looks cheapest and most amateurish.
I’ve taken the latter approach because when I’ve got qualification calls wrong in the past, it’s often because I’ve been too forgiving of the latter. Also, when you’re on the borderline, you want to be making the value call, rather than playing shorter odds. These two things have informed my decisions.
Hungary is next on my qualifier list. It’s the most professionally performed of the remaining acts and last night’s jury rehearsal reminded me that it can do rather well among this constituency. It’s a decent enough price to do so too. The same things can be said for Denmark, which is why I will also include it in my ten. Finding the final place feels like a coin toss, and I’m going with Belarus, on the basis that there’s enough there, alongside a few allies, to see it squeak through.
My six non-qualifiers come across as either cheap or dull. I can’t rule out Moldova based on some friends and a slick routine in last night’s jury rehearsal, but flashing bum cheeks in PVC hotpants are a red flag. Serbia’s flags aren’t red on stage but the problem comes in the final minute of jazz hands and tomfoolery.
In the dull category comes FYROM, Netherlands, Finland and Albania. These are the four acts that for whatever reason, pass you by with least impact. Finland offers 90 seconds of the same few lines performed in the same way. It’s surprising how quickly any kind of surprise value gives way to tedium. Dull staging of dull songs also hamper the other three.
From this list of qualifiers and non-qualifiers, the longest price is Albania not to qualify at 2/1 on the Betfair Sportsbook. ‘I’m Alive’ just doesn’t come alive on stage at all, partly because it doesn’t give Elhaida a chance to shine. She looks downright uncomfortable performing it, and there’s no hook or indeed much of a chorus to persuade televoters or juries to give it their approval.
Good luck with your own bets tonight, and keep your thoughts coming below.