It's Eurovision week once again, and Kevin Hatchard's looking to post another profit. It's time to look ahead to Tuesday's first semi-final...
"Greece have a bad place in the running order, and the song itself is a bit of a mess. That said, the staging may well lift this, and Greece have never failed to qualify for the Grand Final."
So here we are again, my Eurovision chums. As usual, there'll be three columns this week, with two semi-final previews and then a look ahead to Saturday's extravaganza. All this hullabaloo about Leicester City winning the Premier League is fine, but you lot know where the real action is.
Russia are the overwhelming favourites to win this semi-final at [1.33], and I'm now backing them to win the entire contest at [2.7]. Sergey Lazarev's "You're The Only One" really grabs you in the same way as Sweden's winning entry did last year, and if they can pull off the spectacular staging they are attempting (there have been a fair few issues in rehearsals), this will wow televoters across Europe. Lazarev really seems to be relishing this opportunity, and he has had chart success before as a solo artist and with boyband Smash!!
I think that price of [2.7] will shorten once people see the song performed for the first time, and if the performance connects with juries, this is a justifiable favourite. You could agonise and prevaricate about the politics of the whole thing, but Russia finished second last year with the frankly superb ballad "A Million Voices", proving that Putin's fiefdom can still do well despite some deeply unpopular foreign policy. As I always say when people bemoan the UK's poor performances, politics are a minor factor, while the song is king.
There are plenty of reasons to suggest that Greece won't make Saturday's Grand Final, and they are currently trading at [3.85] to make it through. They will be second on stage, which is a hideous place in the running order. The song "Utopian Land" starts quite promisingly, with some unmistakeably Greek drum 'n fiddle action (stop giggling at the back). However, it then descends into chaos, as two seemingly inebriated guys launch into a dreadful rap. Every so often, the two female members of Argo return to try and rescue the piece, but Dumb and Dumber keep spoiling it.
With the "coffin slot" in the running order, and such a bizarre song, there's an argument that we should be running a mile from this. However, Greece have never failed to qualify for the Grand Final, and have never finished lower than seventh in the semi-finals. The ethnic elements in the track may appeal to Greece's traditional voting allies, and that might see this squeeze through.
In these semi-finals we are always on the hunt for short-priced entries to oppose, but there aren't really any standout candidates. Hungary's "Pioneer" [1.39] is pretty forgettable, and performer Freddie's gravelly vocals grate after a while. However, Hungary have a strong qualification record, and the lively staging includes a bald guy smashing hell out of a huge drum, which has to be a positive.
Croatia's "Lighthouse" by Nina Kraljic [1.6] is borderline. Nina has looked a bit nervous at times in live performances, and it's taken her a while to find her feet. Her strong vocals should get this over the finish line, but her styling is the work of a maniac. The metallic dress she's wearing has to be seen to be believed, and I'm worried it might interfere with air-traffic control.
If you fancy a dart at this market, it's worth a look at the Dutch entry, which is trading at [3.75] to make the top three. "Slow Down" is a really cool country effort, and Douwe Bob is a charming performer. Juries should go for this, and the hook should suck in a fair few televoters.
The favourite in this market is San Marino at [2.18]. Aged smoothie Serhat talks his way through the entirety of "I Didn't Know", and although there's a lively disco beat in the background, this is pretty awful fare. It's the kind of thing X-Factor alumnus Wagner would have released, if anyone had been crazy enough to hand him a recording deal. The staging is creepy, with 51-year-old Serhat surrounded by girls half his age.
That said, former dentist Serhat has actually had a decent music career. "Total Disguise" and "Chocolate Flavour" (a dentist can't advocate real chocolate) were big hits across Europe. Some televoters might find this to be a bit of enjoyable fluff, although I'd prefer to have Serhat perform root canal surgery on me than have him sing it to me again.
Montenegro are contenders to finish bottom of the semi-final pile too, trading at [3.65]. "The Real Thing" by Highway starts with the audio equivalent of someone hitting you in the face with a frying pan, and there's nothing likeable about the depressing rock track that follows. I think this will be too alternative for juries, and too inaccessible for televoters.
Moldova is also in the mix at [3.15], with "Falling Stars" from Lidia Isaac. There'll be an astronaut wandering around as Lidia delivers an unspectacular dance track. Poor Lidia has struggled with her vocal, and the only thing falling is likely to be the number of votes this gets.
With Moldova and Montengro offering up poor entries, San Marino's disco effort might just stay off the bottom, especially if the disco style delights televoters.
For the latest Eurovision 2016 odds you can read my final preview.
Open Bets from previous columns
Laid Sweden in the Grand Final Top 3 market at [1.77]
Backed France in the Grand Final Top 10 market at [1.98]
Backed Ireland to qualify from Semi Final 2 at [2.56]
You can read by Eurovision 2016 Semi-Final 2 Betting Preview behind the link.