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Get the nachos and dip at the ready, make sure that a stiff drink is very close to hand, stand to attention for the Eurovision anthem, marvel in some arty shots of Lisbon whilst on the edge of your seat waiting for flag waving aplenty and those big, cheesy grins from the Portuguese version of Loose Women and then “Hellooooooo Europe!”
Portugal play hosts to this year’s Grand Final after Salvador Sobral won by a mini landslide last year with Amar Pelos Dois but this year’s contest looks set to be tighter following the most volatile market moves that I can ever recall in the last fortnight. Who knows, we may even have a winner outside of the first four in the market for a change which hasn’t happened since the monster regalia helped swing it for Finland 12 years ago when Lordi won with Rock Hard Hallelujah.
Three of the front four in the ante-post betting two weeks ago; Bulgaria, Estonia and Czech Republic have all gone for major walks in the market whereas the money has come for Cyprus (40/1 into 5/4), France (33/1 into as low as 9/1 in places), Lithuania (100/1 into around 12/1) and Norway (25/1 into 4/1 and then back out to 25/1 after their semi-final performance) in a big way once we caught glimpses of their first dress rehearsals last week and after the first semi-final in Lithuania’s case. The latest big mover since Thursday evening has been Ireland.
The significance of this should not be underestimated as the market has been deadly accurate in recent years at a similar stage in terms of the shorteners with outright winners cut from 25/1 into 3/1, 16/1 into 9/2 and 12/1 into 3/1. This would suggest that we should not be naïve in believing results from the semi-finals, and from the jury vote in particular which take place a day before the public vote, have not leaked out in some fashion.
In terms of having a financial interest, I’d say that punters not clued up to betting on the contest make two very big mistakes; (1) they bet on the song that they like best rather than trying to work out what Larysa in Riga is thinking and (2) they seriously underestimate the jury vote which counts for 50% of the overall mark. The quoted odds were as of 12.00 noon on Friday.
So with that in mind, here’s my runner-by-runner guide to the 2018 Eurovision Song Contest, which is live from 8.00 p.m. this Saturday on BBC1.
Best Odds: 100/1
(Melovin - Under The Ladder)
In recent years contestants are drawn out of a pot for which half of the show they will appear in (the later the draw the better) and then the Eurovision Bods and National Broadcasting company elect where those acts then perform within that half to help as much as they can produce the winner that they want! They usually opt for something engaging to kick off the show that can’t win and that is no different this year. Ukraine were always going to qualify, pimp slot or otherwise in the weaker second semi-final on Thursday, so it was all about their performance. In a year where the staging has not been as spectacular as usual throughout the 26 finalists, they probably win the most dramatic in that respect as the Dracula-style Melovin emerges from out of a coffin inside a piano that later sets itself on fire. Oh yes, the full gimmicks are on show with this one! It’s just an average song though but with both Russia and Azerbaijan not qualifying this year, I expect it to pick up plenty of their votes from ex-Soviet states votes, even if they are opening the show.
Best Odds: 100/1
(Alfred and Amaia - Tu Cancion)
Poor old Spain have drawn the number 2 slot which has never won the contest. Not unsurprisingly after the quietest song won last year, we have plenty of them a year on trying to do ‘a Portugal’. Therefore this soppy love song is a big change from Spain’s usual upbeat, fiery, passionate entries, and it’s also probably the second weakest of the five simple songs performing on the night. The weepy-eyed romantics will love it, and it has its charm, but I suspect they’ll like Lithuania and Ireland even more.
Best Odds: 250/1
(Lea Sirk - Hvala, ne)
You might want to wear some sunglasses to deal with some of the strobing effects on this no hoper. The pretend power cut just over half way through with the dancers then looking all bemused at what is going on is neither funny nor clever Slovenia. That said, it may well have been the gimmick that got them over the line in terms of causing a surprise of getting out of the second semi-final, though the very fact that they even qualified with this utter dross underlines the importance of the Balkan block vote. Absolutely no chance in hell.
Best Odds: 22/1
(Leva Zasimauskaite - When We’re Old)
Ahhhh, sugary, sweet, little Lithuania. Maybe it is just too sweet though and the market has caught up with its true chance since the first semi-final where Leva charmed her way into many a voter’s heart with no gimmicks - just her and the song. It will be hard for a ballad to win from stall 4 though. They may not have won the first semi-final (we won’t know that until after the full result of the final is announced) but it was certainly the biggest market mover of those to perform on Tuesday straight afterwards and that has been a key element to finding the winner of the contest of late. Being of the vintage I am, my first thought was that it had a fairly similar feel to Cyndi Lauper’s True Colours but younger listeners are far more likely to compare Leva’s vocal style to Diana Vickers or Ellie Goulding. The concern is that it could get a little lost performing in the first half as that’s where, bar Ireland, all the quiet, soppy songs have ended up (Spain, Portugal and Germany) whereas all the lively favourites perform in part two.
Best Odds: 100/1
(Cesar Sampson - Nobody But You)
After finishing runner-up in Austrian Idol in 2014, Cesar has been a backing singer for Bulgaria’s fourth and second-placed entries in the last two years and now he gets his big chance having, maybe a little surprisingly, got out of the stronger first semi-final on Tuesday as it is a bit Radio 2 from the 1980s. He’s also dressed like he’s an extra on the Starship Enterprise. I can’t work out if he looks like a young Atto Bolddon or young O J Simpson, possibly the latter as the jury clearly decided he also didn’t murder this song. That said, I don’t think even Johnny Cochrane’s ghost can help him here. I can’t knock the vocals but it just takes too long to get going whilst he remains static on a raised stage before he starts to strut his stuff in the final minute.
Best Odds: 40/1
(Elina Nechayeva - La Forza)
Being the sole operatic entry and performed in Italian, as you might therefore expect this is vocally the standout performance of the contest. A warning though, just when you think that Elina can’t possibly reach any higher, think again! A good time to let the pets out. The genre worries me though as operatic entries have generally underperformed compared to market expectation and there have been stronger opera songs than this down the years. Elina’s huge dress looks fantastic with all the interchanging lighting but that’s not a new concept as Moldova did likewise a few years ago and they only finished in mid-division. To have any chance at all it has to win the jury vote in my view but, given their extreme weakness in the market since the first semi-final from 6/1 out to 40/1, that clearly didn’t happen and they have probably missed by a long way. At least they have made the final for the first time in three years.
Best Odds: 25/1
(Alexander Rybak - That’s How You Write A Song)
In a year of the most wacky market moves, nothing can quite match Norway who were backed from 25/1 into 4/1 once the dress rehearsals began but then drifted right back out to 25/1 again after their semi-final performance. Rybak is Eurovision royalty of course after he won by two landslides in 2009 with Fairytale, making it the second most famous Eurovision song after Waterloo and he has the ability to make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear with his charisma and showmanship. However, that’s what his backers must now hold their hopes onto as his semi-final performance lacked the same pazzazz as what we saw in his national final. In a nutshell it all became far too polished as the selling point from his national final was the raw enthusiasm that was missing on Thursday. Maybe he is saving it for the final having been reported to have suffering from a cold last week, who knows, but I was expecting him to blow us away. As for the song, you can’t argue that it’s a little cheesy in parts but also very catchy indeed. Of course he gets his trademark fiddle out for the more-rousing second half, so the weaker first half is helped with some clever (but now old) graphics to take your mind off that part of the song. In the same way judges at The Oscars like to vote for films about the movie industry, as this is a song about song writing, I can see the juries giving it more marks than it is entitled to get and it will do well in the televote for sure, notably in Scandinavia of course but also Belarus (where he was born) and I’d imagine also the nearby Baltic states. I’m not sure he can emulate Jonny Logan and win it twice though. A later draw would have helped matters.
Best Odds: 200/1
(Claudia Pascoal - O Jardim)
After last year’s victory the hosts have once again gone for a quiet, peaceful voice but this song about Claudias late grandmother’s garden is going nowhere fast in more ways than one. In fact, it’s a full 23 seconds short of the allotted 3 minutes as even the songwriter was getting bored.
9. United Kingdom
Best Odds: 250/1
(SuRie - Storm)
Well, we’ve done it again finding a strong contender to finish last despite Storm being the UK’s most Eurovision-style entry for a long time as it gets the foot tapping as early as the second bar after a nice piano and vocal opening line. However, with just one top 10 in the last 15 years, and that was written by Andrew Lloyd Webber who then played the piano on stage just to ram that particular point home, what hope does SuRie have? The UK is not popular at the best of times and now we’ve stuck two fingers up at what will soon be ex-EU members so what added impact will that have? Since Jemini recorded nul points in 2003, the UK have finished last twice, beaten just one other entry twice and finished 24th of 26 in two of the last three years. To make it worse this year, the first break is after the eighth song which is not ideal as not all viewers will have returned to their television screens up ninth. A backing singer for Belgium in 2014 and last year, SuRie has a bit of an Annie Lennox vibe going on but the final reprise of chorus doesn’t kill as it should not reaching the crescendo it promises to and she looks lost on stage on her own with not a big enough song to help her out. The fact that the UK’s three main threats to finish last are Balkan countries (Serbia, Slovenia and Albania) and that region tends to club together in the voting tells me it should finish bottom of the heap. Remarkably one firm were going Evens to finish 21st-26th on Friday morning.
Best Odds: 300/1
(Sanja Ilic & Balkanika - Nova Deca)
This is your ideal moment to take a comfort break. I’m usually a sucker for a brooding Balkan entry but this is desperately dull and somehow defied odds of 7/1 to qualify out of the second weaker semi-final. They are the rank outsiders and quite right too if judged on the quality of song alone unless you like a good minute of wailing from Sanja before it even starts to get going when Balkanika attempts and fails to save the day. However, it is not as simple as that as you can be virtually certain the Balkan region will be giving it bits and bobs so Serbia still have their uses this year in the to finish last betting as they can help make the market for the UK to pick up the wooden spoon where they are a top price 5/2.
Best Odds: 25/1
(Michael Schulte - You Let Me Walk Alone)
Bar Lena’s victory with Satellite which was already a big hit in Europe before it won in 2010 so was very well known, Germany have been so off the pace in recent years and have even finished plum last for the last two years and last but one immediately before that, including a nul points. That won’t be the case this year though as You Let Me Walk Alone is a far better live than the studio version aided by graphics that will pull on heartstrings. Nice melody, nice vocals, it’s just all-round nice and, as I’m no fan of the French entry, I can see this winning the Big 5 market where they are second-favourites at around 2/1.
Best Odds: 250/1
(Eugent Bushpepa - Mall)
Had to be cut from 4 mins 31 secs to the maximum allocation of 3 minutes so at least thank heavens for small mercies. Bands struggle generally but Eugent’s vocals are excellent, until he starts yelling at the end that is. The song, Mall, isn’t as good as the lead singer though and it has been rumoured that he is only a Dini short of a withdrawal from running due to not eating up, standing on stones or whatever else he can think of. Like the Kim Muir runner-up though, I can guarantee you he will still be a maiden after this.
Best Odds: 12/1
(Madame Monsieur - Mercy)
Mercy has me begging for mercy on the sheer boredom factor, that’s for sure. Currently third-favourites, I must be missing something here as I just don’t get it. Maybe its market position has something to do with the fact that it has had no chance to disappoint yet as France automatically go straight through to the final unlike what were considered many of the main hopes who then underwhelmed in the semi-finals. It’s also French. Very French so I’d be surprised if the televote takes to it that strongly plus it’s also hard to put on a finger on how much being involved in last month’s bombings in Syria will play on some voters’ minds. Their visuals have undergone a makeover since their national final opting for all black which is only one win behind white in winners’ outfit colours down the years and they do look good but, overall, they appear underpriced to me. As such, I think they may be worth taking on being favourites in the Big 5 market with Germany.
14. Czech Republic
Best Odds: 66/1
(Mikolas Josef - Lie To Me)
This is only a second appearance in the final for the Czech Republic who usually enter dreadful rock songs. However, a big change this year as this is one for the yoof vote as it’s a fun, contemporary song along the lines of Thrift Shop (or so says my teenage son - don’t ask me!) or the opening credits to The Fresh Prince Of Bel Air performed by an extrovert, young, cheeky chappie with a distinctive, geeky look but both the performance and song itself has undergone a few changes. Mikolas’s performance will be devoid of any acrobatics which he had been working on for five months having injured his back in dress rehearsals so it’s lost that visual edge since it was as low as 8/1 a fortnight ago. He didn’t look to be moving perfectly freely in Tuesday’s semi-final. With regards to the song, some work better in the studio and others better live and I think that his vocals work better in the studio as it lacked the punch of the recorded version but it still has something. At times the backing singers perform over the top of him and they have also had to change some fruity lyrics. Mikolas is clearly picky as he didn’t like any of the Czech entries last year so he waited for this opportunity a year later with a song he did like but what it has got going for it apart from the teenage vote, is plenty of hooks. The ‘wop-bop-a-loo-bop-a-wop-bam-boo’ lead-in to the chorus for one is memorable as is the easy-to-follow, though nothing-special, chorus. However, the major hook is the saxophone that opens the song and is integrated throughout which is undoubtedly catchy just as a similar sax solo basically hauled Moldova into third last year as 100/1 outsiders. Overall I’d argue the market has overreacted in pushing them out to as big as 66/1.
Best Odds: 66/1
(Rasmussen - Higher Ground)
The heavily-bearded Danes have gone for a Viking-style entry that has tried to be anthemic with plenty of heavy drum beats but fails. Their image greatly outweighs the song which is instantly forgettable being bland from start to finish. I’ve heard it 4-5 times and still can’t remember it without a prompt.
Best Odds: 50/1
(Jessica Mauboy - We Got Love)
Australia have made the top 10 in all three appearances, though that is very much down to the televote, probably due to the novelty factor of them being the competition rather than the professional jury vote who have seen right through their tame little pop songs and this is yet another one. For example, last year the Oz entry received 177 votes overall of which just two came from the jury. Two! A 12/1 shot before dress rehearsals, Jessica’s performances have gone down like a lead balloon and she dances like a drunk. As such they could be backed at a three-figure price on the machine and no ball tampering is going to help them here. Jessica has some Eurovision experience having performed in the interval in 2014 and has collaborated with some big international stars but her vocals are average to say the least.
Best Odds: 66/1
(Saara Aalto - Monsters)
Everybody’s going for the kinky boots, kinky boots, (boop boop) kinky boots. The mad one who finished second in The X Factor two years ago, Saara is simply made for Eurovision. The problem is that this version of Monsters is just not that good an arrangement despite being co-written by Scott Fitzgerald. Remember him? If not, he was only a beaten by a single point into second by Celine Deon when representing the UK in 1988. It might have had half a chance if they went for the acoustic version with super-talented Saara on the piano performing the lyrics in 34 different languages (there is a recorded version) in just the three minutes allocated. That is impressive to say the least but instead we’ve got the upbeat, club version that sounds like a thousand other songs. She gives it her heart and soul as you would expect from her but it’s too Eurovision to win, you need something more these days.
Best Odds: 50/1
(Equinox - Bones)
Given that Bulgaria had finished fourth and second in the last two years and are hell bent on winning this thing sooner rather than later, there was a great deal of interest and expectancy about their entry this year. Therefore a big congrats to them in managing to put on a clinic in how to turn a legitimate winning song into a macabre, almost-menacing presentation garbed up like a delegation from an interstellar force planning an attack on planet earth in their woefully-failed attempt to add gravitas. As such they have drifted from as low as 6/1 a fortnight ago right out to 50/1. Oh yes, you can guess which entry I took an early position on! I was expecting a very slick, professional stage presentation rather than a production of the dark arts and outdated camera splits and, not possessing the most telegenic of faces, some of their close-ups are quite scary. And then there is Zhana, tongue stud and all, who clearly mimes the final big note which won’t have gone down well with the professional musical juries. The only hope that they can squeeze a top 4 slot now is that, despite making a complete dog’s dinner of one of the best songs, they should still score well from the fellow Balkan entries being the best of their bad bunch.
Best Odds: 66/1
(DoReDos - My Lucky Day)
Moldova completely get Eurovision and every year they can be relied upon to come up with something original and interesting that is hard to take your eyes off, like in 2017 when they were the surprise packet finishing third at 100/1. It is no different this time as they bring one of the very few fun entries (the others being Czech Republic and Israel) to the table with a Carry On Eurovision-style, slapstick performance, and one of the most energetic versions I’ve seen of Celebrity Squares in a while. It’s typically upbeat Moldova so will fare much better with the televote than the juries so won’t be disgraced and I like the fact they are dressed to reflect their national flag.
Best Odds: 20/1
(Benjamin Ingrosso - Dance You Off)
The Swedish have gone for the formula that has worked well for them recently of a solo pretty boy with some slick, modern staging, and that staging has helped this Justin Timberlake-style entry to be taken up the next level. To be honest, I didn’t rate it all from the studio version but it works far better live and my view is that they probably won the weaker semi-final as it would have scored highly with both the juries and televote given the garbage it was up against. May well pip Norway to the Top Scandinavian position.
Best Odds: 66/1
(AWS - Viszlat Nyar)
Oh. My. Lord. AWS possibly deliver loudest entry in over 1500 songs to have ever performed on the Eurovision stage. By the way AWS doesn’t stand for Amazon Web Services but Ants With Slippers, so I like them already. I usually have a soft spot for Hungary’s quiet, well-put-together, atmospheric performances but this time they have opted for out-and-out noise with their heavy metal entry and, although that will be turn off for many, that genre has outperformed market expectation more than once as Europe loves their hard rock on the whole. No one can deny they don’t leave it all out there on the stage, it’s verging on violence, and even involves some crowd surfing. No surprise if this can squeeze into the top 10 as it stands alone this year as the hardcore entry.
Best Odds: 7/2
(Netta - Toy)
The long-time, ante-post favourite had been killing its rivals in terms of YouTube hits in the lead up to the dress rehearsal but I’d argue that most people would want to see what the ante-post favourite’s entry is like so I read little into that. However, now that we’re in the nitty gritty of live performances, Netta’s chickens might be coming home to roost, quite literally as you’ll soon find out if yet to hear it. She looks f*****g nuts. There is no question that it will not be forgotten about come voting time though as Netta, who is a poor man’s Beth Ditto, dressed in oriental style for no reason I can think of, has loads of attitude but it’s a real marmite song that could be a douze or nul points. We need consistency when looking for the winner and I’m far from convinced that older voters and professional, musical jury members will take to it as much as the younger voters. For me it’s another entry that works much better in the studio and her vocals aren’t particularly strong during the two quiet phases. What could play also against her is that it sounds like she is swearing in her lyrics during the chorus. She actually isn’t (replace for what you think she sings to ‘MadaBaka Beat’) but there will be millions and millions of viewers out there who think she is. As for the song rather than the performance, after a bizarre introduction I fear that the female empowerment element will get lost in all the chicken clucking but, in their favour, Israel tend to overperform compared to market expectancy.
23. The Netherlands
Best Odds: 125/1
(Waylon - Outlaw in Em)
If you like Garth Brooks then you are going to enjoy this toe tapper but if a hoedown is your idea of living hell then it’s a turn off. Waylon is the dude half of The Common Linnets whose country-music ballad Calm After The Storm was the surprise runner-up in 2014. He’s gone down a different route this time but still based around the same genre as this is more like Jon Bon Jovi does country, rocking it up and he has the vocals to pull it off too. Personally, I like it, but that shouldn’t come into your Eurovision betting thinking and it’s a question of whether it has enough widespread appeal. I’d also rather his dancers didn’t prance around like if they were on acid.
Best Odds: 20/1
(Ryan O’Shaugnessy - Together)
Considered no hopers at the beginning of the week, Ireland have been the latest (and hopefully last) of the big market moves this year as they are now into 20/1 from nowhere. It’s an achievement for Ireland to even qualify these days having not done so since 2013 (when they went on to finish last) and only Jedward have finished in the top eight for them this century! That’s Jedward. In fairness they have long since given up the ghost of chasing of Eurovision wins but they have been rewarded for taking a risk here with a charming song about two homosexual lovers which has paid off big time making it out of the far stronger first semi-final. It’s a well-performed entry that will resonate for so many and this is the only quiet, simple song in the second half. Not just that but news broke on Thursday that the EBU have banned China from broadcasting the final as they refused to show Ireland’s semi-final performance so this is a notable story that will attract lots of media attention so expect a solidarity vote to also come their way. The gay vote will come for them just as did for Conchita Wurst when she won big for Austria. Whether it can take Ireland all the way is unlikely but from a great draw they have to be of interest in other markets.
Best Odds: 5/4
(Eleni Fouraira - Fuego)
Performing last in the semi-final and then one from the end in the final itself, the Eurovision bods are trying their best to hand Cyprus this on a plate. It would be a good result for the organisers too as Cyprus have never won the Eurovision Song Contest and, if you like the current favourites, don’t let their previous form bother you as Portugal had never even finished in the top 5 from 48 previous attempts until they won it with lengths to spare last year. Hands up, I had this down as an also-ran from when listening to the studio version before the dress rehearsals which just goes to show how entries can be transformed when performed live. Lesson learned not to be so forthrght in my views before that stage in the future. They were backed in from 40/1 into 10/1 after we got a first taste of their stage production and performance and then into 5/2 after the jury voted on Monday ahead of the public vote on Tuesday. That’s some move in a year full of big market fluctuations which can only suggest that they won the jury vote in the first and far stronger semi-final. Since then they have been supported again into 5/4 following Norway not living up to expectations and receiving the perfect draw. Onto the performance and Eleni in her stunning outfit has certainly got stage presence. In addition to the Beyonce/Shakira look and moves, she puts on a very polished, well-choreographed performance with loads of energy and fiery graphics staging. She can move alright, the slinky walk at the beginning tells us that immediately (and she has appeared on ‘Strictly’), and maybe not having super-slimmest of backing dancers helps her stand out even more. Now that we’ve seen the finalised version on stage, I can see why Cyprus are clear favourites given the overall package but my only niggle at around 5/4 can be construed as a quite a big one - the song itself. It’s only just okay with the performance carrying it. In fact, it feels like we have been transported back in time as it’s a bit of a throwback to the ethno-pop era which dominated between 2003-2005. Still, although the best song wins more often than not, it doesn’t always and this looks like being one of those years.
Best Odds: 25/1
(Ermal Meta & Fabrizio Moro - Non Mi Avete Fatto Niente)
The perfunctory anti-war song for this year is performed by Italy who can add Eurovision to the World Cup it won’t be winning in 2018. Ermal and Fabrizio look the part decked out in sharp Italian suits, but rough and ready with it which works well in tandem with their gravelly voices but it’s plain not a strong enough song, pure and simple. There is also no staging as such, just facts and figures popping up on our screens.
The market moves, which have been key in recent years, the late draw and the supercharged performance of Eleni make Cyprus a very worthwhile favourite over the chicken song (Israel). If looking for an each-way position against the 5/4 market leader, recent developments with the EBU banning China from showing the event as they failed to show Ireland’s semi-final performance has seen them become the latest gamble of the event and they too have a great draw. They can fare best of a clutch of ballads this year. At 66/1 the Czech Republic strikes me as being overpriced as does 4/1 about a top 5 as it is very possible that the first semi-final could provide the 1-2-3-4-5 so their drift looks an overreaction. Odds of 7/2 about a Top 10 appeals for the hardcore, heavy metal act Hungary. As for the United Kingdom, 5/2 about picking up the wooden spoon seems more than fair enough to me. They have no hope in the Big 5 category therefore where I fancy Germany to upset France. As for my recommendation of Bulgaria at 7/1 a fortnight ago, they have all to do now after totally messing up their staging so I’m not hopeful of them squeezing a place - the win element has gone.
*If you can get Sky Bet's boosted to 6/1 about a Cyprus-Israel straight forecast then I'd suggest you do so*