Northern Monkey Punter

Eurovision 2018 - SF1 Preview

Semi Final 1 ante post preview

My bets: Finland to qualify from SF1 (11/10 Betfred) 
Cyprus to win SF1 - (33/1 Sun Bets), each-way (3 places, 1/5 odds)

Strong qualification contenders 
Czech Republic 

Israel are ante post favourites for the overall competition and head up the market for the first semi final. They failed to qualify between 2011 and 2014 but have submitted a number of likeable entries in subsequent years, most notably Nadav Guedj's catchy and upbeat Golden Boy (2015), which secured a top ten finish. 

In Netta, however, Israel now have a genuine win contender who could land them the competition for the first time since 1998, when Dana International scooped the honours with Diva

This year's effort, Toy, ticks plenty of boxes. The larger-than-life singer comes across as an absolute barnpot but she's perfect for the song. When she starts doing chicken wings and 'clucking' at the start, you wonder what on earth you are letting yourself in for, but the tune is incredibly catchy. 

Israel cleaned up at the OGAE pre-competition fan poll all across Europe but, as Italy showed last year, if you don't get your staging right, having the support of the Eurovision community and a catchy number doesn't guarantee you victory - even if you dominate the fan polls. 

There is absolutely no doubt Israel will qualify from this semi. It will finish top three for certain, too, but that is reflected in the odds. Whether it wins will depend on whether the Israel team can iron out a few minor issues from the rehearsals. 

They have time to do so, of course, but there are other 'arty' acts in the competition I feel will score higher with the jury and I won't be backing them to win the first semi. Israel should, though, fare extremely well on the tele vote. 

One of those 'arty' entries in opposition is Bulgaria's Bones

A dark and eerie number choreographed by Sacha Jean Baptiste, this is one entry you anticipate could fare really well on the jury vote - even though there are other candidates expected to fare better on the tele vote. 

The vocals on this song are amazing and you find the chorus sticking in your head long after the song is over. It is certainly memorable (which could enable them to overcome a middle-of-the-road position in the running order) and is another top three contender for this semi and a top five contender for the overall final. 

Czech Republic have traditionally made no impact on the competition - they didn't participate between 2010 to 2014, failed to qualify in five of the other six years they did compete, and, when they did qualify, they finished 25th in 2016.

Nevertheless, history shouldn't be used as a stick to beat them with and Lie To Me is probably the best song the Czech Republic have ever sent to the competition. The singer looks like Justin Bieber, the beat is funky and has an element of ' Justin Timberlake' to it and people will definitely vote for this. It will sail though to the final and is a genuine top five contender. 

Cyprus have finished 21st in the last two contests with likeable songs that perhaps deserved to finish a shade higher. In Eleni Foureira's Fuego, they now have a genuine top 10 contender here and maybe even a top five contender (in the overall competition). 

Swedish choreographer Sacha Jean Baptiste has been let loose on this one too (hopefully a source of jury votes) and the song itself is incredibly catchy. 

Eleni's performance, whipping her long hair all over the place, is dazzling and will get viewers all hot under the collar. It reminds me of Shakira, with a bit of Beyonce's attitude thrown in there too. Very good. Their draw, 19th of 19, is also ideal - it will end the night on a high and the 33/1 for them (Sun Bets) to win the first semi is overpriced - they could sneak a place here (each-way terms are 3 places at 1/5 odds).

Finland won the competition in 2006 with Lordi's unforgettable Hard Rock Hallelujah and although they've struggled more recently, failing to qualify for each of the last three years, it is fair to say that this year's effort, Monsters, by 2016 UK X-Factor runner-up Saara Aalto, makes a considerably wider appeal than the drab Blackbird which they submitted last year. 

Aalto is well-liked within the Eurovision community and has international recognition from her time on the X-Factor. An extremely talented and versatile performer (she has record a version of her entry in 34 different languages, has recorded a full album in Mandarin and was the voice of Princess Anna in the Finnish version of the Disney animated film, Frozen), her voice sounds amazing live and her song has a catchy Euro dance vibe to it. There is a bit of Kygo sound in there!

Providing Finland don't overdo the staging - we saw last year with Azerbaijan (man with a horse head pointlessly stood on a step ladder while the singer scrawled something on a chalk board) I think they have a strong top 10 chance in the overall competition. Aalto has some sort of a ball prop at the top of some stairs and falls off into the arms of her dancers. 

They were third in the OGAE poll - so have fan support behind them - and they have bagged a very good slot - 15th of the 19 in the running order. This will stand out against the dross in the middle of the card.

Likely qualifiers 

Belgium have finished fourth in two of the last three competitions and 10th in 2016. Their entry this year, A Matter Of Time, will seemingly progress straight to the final and reminds me of a James Bond theme. 

Azerbaijan, with X My Heart, should maintain their 100 % qualification record (they've finished in the top 10 in the overall final six years in a row after first participating, though not in any of the last four), which then leaves three final qualification spots up for grabs. 

Best of the rest 

I don't have any strong view on the others, though Estonia's opera entry is different to the rest and has been popular in the fan polls. That may enable them to overcome an iffy position in the running order (ninth) and seek compensation for fans favourite Verona failing to qualify 12 months ago (microphone of the female vocalist failed). 

Austria's Cesar Sampson has an excellent voice and Nobody But You deserves to qualify for the 2014 competition winners.

Switzerland haven't won the competition since Celine Dion took the prize in 1988 but Stones gives them a legitimate chance of improving on their recent performances - they've failed to qualify in the last three renewals.

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