Eurovision 2011 Semi-Final 1 Preview

Last night’s jury rehearsal did not clarify this tricky semi-final. With one or two notable exceptions, most of the acts raised their game, and a cautious approach should be adopted.

With better opportunities lying in wait in both the second semi-final and the Top 10 market in the final, in my view this first heat is one to dabble in only. I usually stake my whole six-figure bank on various bets in each semi, but I will not be going in with even a third of what is available to me for tonight’s heat.

That said, these are my thoughts on the win and qualification markets.

Finland is my each-way selection, at a best price at the time of writing of 10-1. Comparisons with Belgium’s Tom Dice – another male soloist just standing there with a guitar, who won the first semi-final last year – have been overdone. But some of the principles that led me to tip Tom back then also apply here.

By splitting up the voting blocs of the big hitters, the semi-finals allow simple, quality songs that are well liked by juries and neutral televoters a better chance. Without as much competition, it is easier for them to bag jury 12s and 10s – that’s clearly what Dice did last year.

In ‘Da Da Dam’ we have a song that is well positioned to do something similar. The staging is beautiful and performer Paradise Oskar also works the camera beautifully, clearly getting his heartfelt message across. The simplicity of the whole package contrasts advantageously with its principal opposition.

My main concern is that this is a more competitive semi-final than the one Tom Dice comfortably won last year. Finland has a couple of formidable opponents to overcome, which is why an each-way bet hoping for a Top 3 finish is recommended.

Azerbaijan is the deserving favourite to win the semi. It has a strong ballad, a great draw and plenty of friends. It’s a shame then, that Eldar and Nigar were both disappointing vocally in the jury rehearsal. I’m not ruling out a position at or near the top of the leaderboard, but on last night’s evidence, nor would I back it at 2-1 either.

Russia also has plenty going for it, not least a charismatic performer with a catchy tune. The arguments against it are that Alexey Vorobyov’s routine looks very gimmick-y in comparison to Paradise Oskar’s, and that is not something that recent juries have appreciated.

Also, far more of Russia’s voting allies are in the other semi-final; it is perfectly feasible that Finland could beat Russia in this semi only for placings to be reversed on Saturday, when all of Russia’s allies will be able to vote.

I wouldn’t completely rule out a Top 3 finish in this semi-final for Greece, given how powerful the final minute of ‘Watch My Dance’ is at the end of the show. It’s just a shame that we have to sit through the rap parts first.

Qualification is a tricky business tonight. The four I’ve mentioned – Finland, Russia, Greece and Azerbaijan – should be safely into the final. The others I would add to the ‘definites’ list are Turkey and Georgia. Turkey is competent and that will be enough, but you can currently get five times the price backing Georgia to go through, and this is my advice for the qualification market.

Eldrine cemented their dramatic improvement this week in the jury rehearsal, giving an excellent vocal performance. Here we have a country that, with the help of friends in the ex-USSR bloc and Caucasus, has attained fifth place in the semi-final televote alone on its two occasions participating in the two-heat system.

Tonight Georgia can rely on five televoting allies for its contemporary rock effort that I have described as Evanescence-lite. It may sound like stretching the point, but this kind of genre is also very popular among certain other countries participating and thus voting tonight (namely the Northern lights of Finland, Norway and Iceland).

In short, with points coming from all over, I see a similar kind of televote result for ‘One More Day’ to 2010 and 2008. Based on what I saw last night, the juries are going to give it plenty of respect too. That should be plenty enough, at a price far more attractive than the other countries in my ‘definites’ list.

After this point it gets very confusing indeed.

Armenia’s six televote allies should be sufficient, but ‘Boom Boom’ is not having the impact I had hoped it would. Everything was going well in the jury rehearsal last night until a vocally ropey final minute, which had bloggers rushing to dismiss its qualification hopes. It’s not a definite, but it’s still Armenia with a catchy tune sung by a pretty girl, so it’s at least a ‘definitely maybe’.

In the jury rehearsal, Hungary’s Kati Wolf spent the first two minutes of ‘What About My Dreams’ being vocally spot on – the best I have seen her this week. I do think some rushed to judgement on that basis, because the final minute saw her wandering around, failing to find a camera, flapping her arms and hitting dodgy notes.

However, having had that build-up to this relatively strong song, and given that she is admirably improving with each run-through rather than letting nerves get the better of her, I am adding Hungary to my list of those getting through by a smaller margin.

Also on that list is Norway’s Stella Mwangi, who raised her game in the jury performance of ‘Haba Haba’ last night. Distinctive and ultra-fun, I can see this doing well enough with the arena crowd and televoters tonight to go through.

The final, and slightly more surprising, inclusion in my qualifying list is Albania. It’s there because Aurela Gace absolutely nailed her jury rehearsal last night with an extremely powerful performance. Despite a poor draw and a rather plodding song, she could lift it over the line with the force of her voice.

So that’s my ten, and this leaves my most surprising non-qualifier call as Serbia.

Nina was vocally more off in the verses for the juries last night than she was in the afternoon. Despite a fun performance, Serbia is preciously short of televoting allies in this semi, and I’m not sure that 60s pastiche in Serbian has enough of a niche in either eastern or western Europe or with juries, even though it is professionally done.

The performance has charm though, and it is in with a chance. So are Switzerland, Iceland and Poland, who all put in good performances in the jury rehearsal. I just think a lack of friends may count against them, without songs that are quite strong enough on their own, pleasant enough though they are.

I am now discounting the other five: Portugal, Lithuania, Croatia, Malta and San Marino.

To sum up, then, my each-way selection for the semi-final is Finland. My qualification advice is that backing Georgia to get through represents the best value currently available. I think these two will definitely be joined in the final by Azerbaijan, Russia, Greece and Turkey – although, as I emphasised at the start of this piece, this heat is such an exceptionally competitive one that I will not be going in with all guns blazing myself.  It wouldn’t be a Eurovision semi-final without a few assumptions overturned.

The four more marginal qualifiers I have are Hungary, Norway, Armenia and Albania, though I would not be shocked if one or two of these were replaced by any of Serbia, Switzerland, Iceland or Poland.

Two things to note. This afternoon I’ll be watching the final dress rehearsal (from 2pm-4pm GMT), and I will post anything noteworthy in the comments box below. And directly after tonight’s qualifiers are announced, at about 10.30pm GMT, their positions in Saturday’s running order will be drawn at a press conference.

In the meantime, I would love to know if you agree or disagree with my reading of this semi. Who are the definite qualifiers in your book? Are you anticipating any surprises tonight, and if so who? Where’s your money in the outright market? Please do use the comments box below to let us know – and good luck!

31 comments to Eurovision 2011 Semi-Final 1 Preview

  • Chris

    Interesting analysis. I think Armenia will fail to qualify and have traded a lot of shorts on Armenia with you and the other guys. I don’t expect many votes from Poland and Spain for Armenia this year which reduces the voting allies to four countries. Coupled with a poor jury vote, I don’t see this advancing.

    I also think that you might be overrating Georgia. I think the song is too experimental for Eurovision regardless of how it is performed. I am short on Georgia.

    Serbia is a sure qualifier for me. I think the song has wide appeal.

    I also think Iceland has a very good chance of making it and am long on it reaching the final.

  • Rob

    Hi Dan,
    I concur with almost all of this. I’m still struggling to see how Iceland will get through. Juries will help it out but I can’t see its televote appeal. I definitely see Serbia as most vulnerable among the big hitters, and could see Armenia not making it too. Norway could be boosted if they interview Stella tonight, as they have done in rehearsals, allowing Norway to get through. I also fancy Albania to qualify and think Poland are value to qualify – it has struck me that Magdalena has really upped her game, and appears to be getting better with each performance.

  • Kev

    Is that you laying some Finland off at 8.6/1 to win the semi, Daniel? Or is the value gone at that price in your opinion?

    Cheers for your views again.

  • Daniel

    I’ll reply to these in turn:

    Hi Chris, Armenia has become more marginal, though the Spanish jury has a record of rewarding cheap, gimmicky pop – Ukraine and even Serbia scored well in the 2009 semi that was jury vote only in Spain. As for the others I suppose depends on how much each niche appeals.

    Rob, I’ve always thought Magdalena was better than the song she sings, so we are always bound to disagree on this one.

    Kev, I’m not laying Finland at the moment. I would prefer to back it for Top 3 or each-way than in the win market.

    Best of luck to you all.

  • fiveleaves

    Excellent write up Dan.
    I’d agree with most of it.
    Certainly Finland look worth an ew bet at the price.
    I’ve even had a nibble on Georgia ew.
    I also wouldn’t write off Greece for a top 3 place given the plum draw and a spectacular performance.
    If only they’d dropped the rap, which unlike the rap in the Eldrine song, is poorly done and looks out of place.

    I’ve also had a speculative lay of Turkey.
    This type of meandering rock song with no real hook has a history of underperforming and without their usual number of allies could just miss out.
    The lead singer dressed as a lizard isn’t very voter friendly either.
    I expect it will be somewhere between 7th and 10th though and I’ll be close but no cigar.

  • fiveleaves

    Also agree about Serbia missing out and have been backing it to do so for awhile

  • David

    I love seeing your e/w pick Finland, as it’s the same as my own. But as you say, a semi win might be too much to hope for – although I wouldn’t rule it out completely.

  • panos

    I agree with almost everything! i find it a little hard for finland to do a tom dice and top the semi – i think comparissons are a bit exaggerated. but a bet for top3 is worth it. i also think iceland might push albania out.

  • Daniel

    Just a quick note on this afternoon’s ‘dress rehearsal’ which appears to involve the performers not wearing their costumes at all. Some entrants, perhaps wisely, are only taking it at half throttle, so I don’t think there will be anything significant we can read from it.

  • Daniel

    Well, most of them weren’t in costume for the final dress rehearsal but one thing I will say is that Greece is incredibly powerful coming at the end, and those who have taken big prices on a Top 3 finish have reason to be hopeful. It has far more impact than Azerbaijan which it follows.

  • David

    Wow, Armenia up at around 1.50 with Betfair to qualify… surely that represents value?

  • Justin

    David, I agree. You certainly get the feeling this market is a bit like the stock market – with people betting/laying like lemmings after reading a blog or two! Definite over-reaction!

  • Adam

    This Finnish dude is no way near the level of Tom Dice, I’d be surprised if he finishes top 3 but could go through for sure just because he’s on his own with a guitar!

    • Daniel

      Hi Adam, before arriving in Dusseldorf I would have completely agreed with you. But as my articles from the press centre indicated, there was something incredibly winning about his performance of the song on screen.

  • Duncan

    Daniel you got any stats on coloured acts in Eurovision? My feeling is it’s a negative. Will the Norwegian girl be treated favourably by the juries to compensate? I’ve been laying Armenia. poor second rehearsal is one part but I also feel they’ve lost more of their dispora vote than either Azeri Turkey Russia and Greece who all have better songs in any case.

    • Daniel

      Hi Duncan, I felt Stella was an unlucky loser tonight after a fun performance I thought would get her through. Her failure to qualify chimes in with the main theme of the night, which is that the juries played a big part in the result, and ‘Haba Haba’ was unlikely to score well in this respect.

  • Daniel

    Wow! What a vindication of the introduction of the jury system. Obvious jury likes are in, Turkey and Armenia are out. I was happy to come out with a profit that will be just into five figures depending on the full semi results. Big wins on Georgia, Greece and Finland were offset by a loss on Armenia. How did you get on, readers?

    • David

      Netted a decent plus, partly helped by your Georgia tip! Thanks for that 🙂

      Also, we still have those Finland e/w to look forward too… top3 looks highly likely!

  • justin

    For me there was something wrong with the acoustics for the first five songs – they all sounded awful. Could have just been a coincidence that five in a row had bad performances and none qualified.

  • Adam

    Nice one Daniel, I tailed u on Georgia qualifying after listenin to ther rehearsal a couple of times. Had Armenia coming top 10 in final tho so thts out the window! Biggest plays are on Hungary and Estonia Top 10 tho

  • Panos

    not shocked by armenia or turkey, but thought norway was unfair and unexpected. happy for georgia and iceland though, they were my biggest bets 🙂 .

  • annie

    wooow! i don’t think anyone , on any blog or voting prediction , saw lithuania even borderline qualify.

  • Peter

    Hi Daniel,
    Finland stood out tonight for me and must go close to winning the semi. Who else do you think may be in the 3 based on what you heard and saw?
    Thanks and keep up the good work!

    • Daniel

      Hi Peter, I am guessing that the semi was won by Azerbaijan or Finland. In third place I can imagine Russia or Greece are most likely, and I would speculate that Georgia came next. But we’ll find out after the final on Saturday.

  • Peter

    Hi Daniel,
    Forgot to ask in my earlier post but when will the semi finalist qualifiers know their final night draw positions please?

  • Daniel

    The draw for the final:
    Serbia – 24 – fantastic though next to the similarly upbeat Spanish entry.
    Lithuania – 4 – this will be near the bottom of the scoreboard on Saturday.
    Greece – 9 – they would have wanted something in the second half.
    Azerbaijan – 19 – it has to be dangerous from that slot.
    Georgia – 25 – the plum draw, a very possible Top 10 finish on the cards.
    Switzerland – 13 right before Blue for the UK.
    Hungary – 5 – not great but at least a nice contrast coming after Lithuania.
    Finland – 1 – a memorable show opener, though slower numbers find it difficult from this early on.
    Russia – 10 – right before France, Amaury Vasilli will be delighted with the contrast.
    Iceland – 21 – a great draw with three out of last four remaining songs being very upbeat, though I think it will be overshadowed by Azerbaijan at 19.

  • jiannis

    iam looser in this semi (ive backed turkey a lot) still i have some faint hopes in switzerland and finland…for what is worth this came up as results leaked at around 6 o clock (i ddnt followed them…
    1 azerbajdjan (big lead)
    3 norway
    8 russia
    9 finland
    10 switzerland

    as we can see there are several mistakes in line(this suppose to be back-up commitees)

    but the main thing is azerbadjan no 1 by big lead..personally i ddnt liked the song so my next hopes go to bosnia and ukraine..

  • fiveleaves

    Did well here.

    As always you wish you’d lay more but my lay of Turkey came up trumps.

    Backed both Norway and Armenia to qualify when they drifted in running.
    Very disappointed for Stella as I feel she was more than worthy of a place in the final.

    Those 2 bets slightly offset buying myself out of my serbia red at a profit and by backing the swiss.

    Also pleased with the final draw.
    On Georgia @ an average of 9 for top 10.
    My biggest and only real bet in that market.
    Also Azer one of my biggest greens in the OR.
    Not quite as big as Georgia tho which is huge 😉

    We can all dream!

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