Intelligent punter's guide to the 2014 Eurovision Song Contest
Our man in the Euro-paddock chooses the best bets for Saturday night's sing-song in Copenhagen
TWENTY-SIX countries line up for tonight's Eurovision Song Contest final in Copenhagen, which will be broadcast live in Britain on BBC1 from 8pm, with Graham Norton providing the snarky comments.
There are four key factors to look for when trying to pick the winner:
Voting blocs: Three distinct blocs of countries have enjoyed success in modern Eurovision history - a Nordic bloc, an ex-USSR bloc and a Balkan bloc (which includes Turkey). Since 1998, all but one Eurovision contest has been won by a bloc member. Being a non-bloc country - like the UK, the Netherlands or Hungary - doesn't mean it's impossible to win, but the song has to be extra–special.
Running order: Songs that are performed early in the final are at a big disadvantage. It's now ten years since the winner came from the first half of the draw and the running position of the last nine winners, working back from 2013, speaks for itself: 18th, 17th, 19th, 22nd, 20th, 24th, 17th, 17th and 19th. The best positions of all are 17th-19th, responsible for six of the last nine winners.
English language: For good or ill, Eurovision has become globalised, with 19 of the last 22 winners singing in English. Those few competitors who do sing in their native tongues are at a distinct disadvantage.
Solo artists: Pay close attention to single performers, and in particular single female performers, who have won eight of the last 11 contests, including the last three. In the past 12 years, only one duo, Ell and Nicky from Azerbaijan, and one band, Lordi, those unforgettable monster rockers from Finland, have prevailed.
So, in a nutshell, the ideal profile of the modern Eurovision winner is a single female performer from a bloc country, singing a catchy song in English towards the end of the show.
Now let's take a look at some of the likelier contenders, plus a few outsiders who could be worth an each-way bet:
SWEDEN 'Undo' sung by Sanna Nielsen. Best odds: 3-1. The bookies' favourite, but the odds have drifted slightly since the running order was announced and Sweden were given the 13th spot – a little too early in the proceedings. But it's a bloc country, who won in 2012 (their fifth Eurovision win), and they're represented by a single female performer who sings in English – so they tick most of the right boxes.
AUSTRIA 'Rise like a Phoenix' sung by Conchita Wurst. Best odds: 100-30. 'Bearded lady' Wurst is getting plenty of media attention, but the song unfortunately doesn't quite live up to the hype surrounding the performer. Should poll well, but the last time Austria won the Eurovision was 1966. And they have a first-half draw (11th) to overcome, too.
ARMENIA 'Not Alone' sung by Aram Mp3. Best odds: 7-1.
Well fancied, and a single performer from a bloc country. But they're drawn seventh in the running order so although the song should score well and has definite place possibilities, it's tough to see it winning.
THE NETHERLANDS 'Calm After the Storm' sung by The Common Linnets. Best odds: 4-1. The Dutch had arguably the best song last year with the hauntingly beautiful Birds, and they've gone for something different again with a country number which is in pleasant contrast to some of the brasher entries. They're drawn 24th so it will be no surprise to see this go very well - but the lack of bloc votes could prove the difference between a win and a place. Holland hasn't won since Teach-In and Ding-a-dong in 1975.
HUNGARY 'Running' sung by Andras Kallay-Saunders. Best odds: 16-1. One of the stronger songs in the contest and very well delivered. Deserves to go well and has a very good draw - 21st position - but Hungary has never won the contest and could be handicapped by a lack of bloc votes. That said, it still makes sense for an each–way bet.
NORWAY: 'Silent Storm' sung by Carl Espen. Best odds: 66-1. Bloc votes will help, but singing fifth won't. It's an okay ballad but it doesn't look a strong enough song to overcome the handicap of such an early draw.
UKRAINE 'Tick-Tock' sung by Mariya Jaremchuk. Best odds: 25-1. Ukraine has a good recent record in the event - they were third last year - but this year's song is not as good as Gravity and they have been given the toughest position of all – first song of the night. Who'll remember it by the end?
AZERBAIJAN 'Start a Fire' sung by Dilara Kazimova. Best odds: 66-1. The ex-Soviet republic has a great record in Eurovision: they won in 2011, were second last year and have finished in the top five for the past eight years. But they're drawn an unkind third and they'll do well to maintain their record with a pretty average song.
DENMARK 'Cliche Love Song' sung by Basim. Best odds: 25-1. Last year's winners, representing a bloc country that has finished in the top ten in the six of the last seven contests. Likely to go well from a great draw – 23rd - but the negative stat is that no country has won Eurovision two years in a row since 1994.
GREECE 'Rise Up' sung by Freaky Fortune. Best odds: 40-1. A really nice intro and a catchy rap number performed on a trampoline. It's likely to do well, but a first-half draw – Greece are going tenth - is the big negative.
RUSSIA 'Shine' sung by the Tolmachevy Sisters. Best odds: 250-1. The Russians have a good record in the event and have one of the better songs in this year's contest, eye-catchingly performed by twins sitting on a see-saw. They're drawn 15th: a little later in the running order would have been better. That said, odds of 250-1 with at least one bookmaker look over-generous.
SLOVENIA 'Round and Round' sung by Tinkara Kovac. Best odds: 250-1. They've been drawn 17th – and songs drawn 17th have won the contest three times since 2004. Bearing that in mind, the Slovenes could be overpriced. And they're a bloc country with a single female performer. The negatives are that the song doesn't start in English and is not particularly memorable.
FINLAND 'Something Better' sung by Softengine. Best odds: 100-1. They'll be going 18th, a nice draw, but for groups to win these days they require a very special number and this isn't it. Hard to see Softengine emulating compatriots Lordi, the last group to win the event (in 2006).
SPAIN 'Dancing in the Rain' sung by Ruth Lorenzo. Best odds: 66-1. They have a good draw at 19th and a pleasant enough song but Spain haven't won this since the 1960s and without bloc votes to rely on it's hard to see this number ending that sorry record.
SWITZERLAND 'Hunter of Stars' sung by Sebalter. Best odds: 125-1 A nice catchy number with lots of whistling, it deserves to poll well. But while they've done well in the draw - going 20th – the lack of international allies means its unlikely the Swiss will be toasting their first Eurovision success since 1988.
MALTA 'Coming Home' sung by Firelight. Best odds: 125-1.
Malta have never won Eurovision but have often polled well and it could be a similar story this year with this country song which is likely to attract plenty of votes with its good draw – 21st - but not enough to win.
SAN MARINO 'Maybe (Forse)' sung by Valentina Monetta. Best odds: 300-1. There's something James Bondesque about this song: it deserves to go well, and drawn 25th it could outperform its long odds. But a lack of bloc votes mean it's unlikely to figure in the leading pack.
UNITED KINGDOM 'Children of the Universe' sung by Molly. Best odds: 11-1.
Second-half draws are a big advantage - but performing last, which Molly is, doesn't necessarily help: last year's final act from Ireland finished stone dead in the voting. This isn't a bad song, but it looks much too short in the betting considering Britain's poor recent record in the contest. ·