Eurovision 2017 - Grand Final Preview
Austria, Belarus, Bulgaria, Croatia, Denmark, Hungary, Israel, Netherlands, Norway and Romania all qualified from semi final two on Thursday night, while the dress rehearsals (on which the jury votes are based ahead of Saturday's final) took place on Friday.
Grand Final - potential winners
There are three viable winners in the line-up this year in my opinion; Italy, Bulgaria and Portugal.
Italy's entry, Occidentali's Karma has amassed a staggered 113 million hits on YouTube and has been hot favourite to win the competition since winning Sanremo (National song festival) back home earlier in the year.
Sung by the charismatic Francesco Gabbani, and featuring a dancing gorilla, the song has a brilliant chorus and has lots of novelty appeal.
For a long time it seemed like Italy were certain winners, though there have been a few issues with the lighting on stage during rehearsals and the producers have handed them a less-than-ideal draw in stall nine in the Grand Final.
Having been backed into odds-on favouritism before the rehearsals took place, Italy have since drifted out to a best priced 9/4 (Bwin) on the eve of the Final, which is either great value or an indicator that Italy fared worse-than-expected in the jury vote on Friday (the results are not officially announced until during the Final).
Italy are due a victory in the competition in truth and, for me, cheeky Gabbani deserves to win this with this catchy number - which is making Eurovision history due to its online popularity.
While the market vibes are beginning to suggest this may be another Il Grande Amore - the 2015 entry for Italy which was also a firm fans favourite in polls before the competition but ended up third on the big night - Grand Amore, while popular, was not this popular. There are merchandise t-shirts available for this one already!
You would think that Occidentali's Karma will do very well in the tele vote. Although the vast majority of the song is not sung in English (when songs in English typically fare best) you don't need to speak Italian to be infected by the catchy tune or appreciate the novelty appeal of the gorilla.
It would be fair to say their draw in position nine means Italy can no longer be described as bankers, but they've drifted from 4/7 out to 9/4 and it just looks too big a price.
There was talk within the Eurovision community that Occidentali's Karma may be one of the best ever Eurovision entries and, despite a few teething problems in rehearsals, you would expect Francesco's team to get everything polished for the big night - when he could turn on the charm and hopefully clean up on the public vote.
BULGARIA in the w/o Italy market also make appeal at 2/1 (Bet 365).
I put Bulgaria up as bankers for the second semi final on Thursday. They qualified, and although we won't know if they top-scored in that semi until the results are released after the Grand Final, Kristian Kostov's performance was impressive on the night. The fact they've been put in as the penultimate act in the line up hopefully bodes well.
Reports from Kiev suggest Kostov's performance in the final dress rehearsals was just as strong, and Beautiful Mess is a song that has really come to life on stage in the past week and is much more than a studio track (unlike Macedonia, for example, who were eliminated in the second semi after a disappointing live display). During last night's semi, there were some new visual effects to add to the on-stage impact for Bulgaria, too.
Let's not forget that Kostov was born in Moscow, and not only could he fare well with the jury for his strong vocal performance, he could pick up plenty of points in the tele vote - he may be able to draw support from the former Soviet states now Russia's entry has been banned from this year's competition.
I have said in previous previews that I don't rate Portugal and nothing has changed. Salvador Sobral's performance is enchanting and he slows down the arena in the darkness while the fans bring out the torches on their phones and merrily wave along. It may turn out that Portugal have fared well with the jury - they may even top score with the jury in the Grand Final tomorrow and for that reason I respect them.
However, it remains a 'chalk and cheese' song for me and if other tele voters feel the same, it is possible Portugal may concede ground to the likes of Italy and Bulgaria in the public vote.
Top 5 contenders
The one which I held high hopes for at the start of the competition, as an each-way play against Italy (who were at that point getting backed into odds-on) was Sweden, but they have drifted alarmingly since going before the jury in rehearsals and are now as big as 33/1 in the outright betting - having been a quarter of that price when I backed them at 8/1 pre-rehearsals.
Their choreography and performance was slick from the outset and Robin Bengtsson knows the performance inside out from the National Final, Melodifestivalen.
There is the gimmick of the treadmills and Sweden have a strong historical record in the competition as well as a great draw - they are 24th of 26 in the running order.
I hope that draw could enable the Swedes to make up some ground on the market leaders in the tele vote on the night, as the market vibes suggest others have probably fared better than them in the jury vote - they've now slipped behind Belgium in the betting and are fifth in the outright market list.
Sweden are 8/11 for a top five finish, but it is not really much of a price in what is ultimately a fun market.
Another option to get them onside would be to take the 15/8 with William Hill for them to finish top four. However, I am fully expecting them to now be playing for fourth at best - behind Italy, Bulgaria and Portugal, so maybe the way to go with them hereon in is to back them without all three of those nations instead in the special market offered by Betstars.
Betstars price up Belgium as 7/4 favourites in this particular market but Sweden are 9/2 and the place terms are 3 places at 1/4 odds. In theory you could land a winner if Sweden were fourth behind the three fancied countries, while there would likely be the option of picking up some place money as insurance, should they finish fifth or six.
Belgium and Armenia are likely to be their biggest dangers but the former hasn't endured a particularly smooth prep in rehearsals and the latter has fared much worse than Sweden on the draw front.
Top 10 contenders
Although they have bagged a middle-order draw (12th), AZERBAIJAN's bizarre entry is memorable and could catapult them into the top 10 ahead of some of the forgettable entries that limped though qualifying. Bet Victor go 13/8 for a top 10 finish.
In the 'top five' market, ROMANIA (3/1, Paddypower) could be the dark horses that could surprise a few if they fare well on the tele vote.
Following on from the slow UK entry, low-key Norwegian number and a filler track from Cyprus in the running order, Romania have an ideal slot as they are also followed by two songs that may well finish closer to the bottom than the top - the German entry, Perfect Life, and rock song, Time, from hosts Ukraine.
Romania's entry is fun, upbeat, and the unique mix of yodelling and rap, from their position in 20th in the running order, might just give them an edge over some of the other novelty acts like Moldova (with the sax, wedding dresses and funky dance) and Croatia (singer performs both parts of the duet himself), both of whom perform earlier in the evening.
Despite Brexit being an obvious political concern to their winning chances, I actually think the UK will surprise a few people this year - well sufficiently so to keep out of the bottom places.
Although the big five countries often struggle, and their bad entries are not 'filtered out' in qualifying (they are guaranteed a spot in the final automatically), Never Give Up on You, by Lucie Jones, is a powerful performance when sung live and the LED display offsets the song superbly.
Lucie's performance in the rehearsal was strong vocally and the 11/10 with Betstars for the UK to finish 11th to 20th seems worth a little go - it may be asking a bit too much to expect us to break into the top 10 but there is now some substance to the song and a draw in 18th could have been worse.
France, Germany, Ukraine, Spain all qualified automatically but could struggle, while Belarus, Cyprus, Austria and Poland were all acts that may have sneaked their way through qualification and may be up against it in a deeper final.
In terms of backing the wooden spoon act itself, France have a good draw, which could help keep Alma off the bottom, while Germany have a better position than SPAIN, who are on in 16th and may struggle to attract votes and jury support with Do It For Your Lover. It is difficult to establish which section of the Eurovision viewers Spain will appeal to.
Ukraine's Muse-esque rock song isn't the sort of song you expect will do well in the competition either but, unlike Spain, they at least have a strong slot in the running order (22nd) and the home crowd might at least give the impression theirs is going down okay in the arena!
In summary, potential fun bets to consider for tomorrow night.....
Italy to win the Grand Final 9/4 Bwin
Bulgaria to win the Grand Final (w/o Italy), 2/1 Bet 365
Sweden EW to win the Grand Final (w/o Italy, Portugal and Bulgaria), 9/2 Betstars
Romania to finish top five, 3/1 Paddypower
Azerbaijan to finish top 10, 13/8 Bet Victor
UK to finish between 11th and 20th, 11/10 Betstars
Spain to finish last, 11/8 Sky Bet