When I thought ahead to making this prediction a few weeks ago, I imagined it would be the routine task of explaining why I was going along with the conventional wisdom by backing the overwhelming favourites Italy. So it's a tad disconcerting to reach the day of the grand final and find that Italy are no longer the overwhelming favourites - in fact for a short period yesterday and today, they were no longer favourites at all, although they've now marginally overtaken Portugal again. I do rate the Portuguese song (in fact I voted for it in Tuesday's semi), but I'm puzzled by the amount of people who see it as an outright winner. An unusual back-story will only take a song so far in the public vote, and in theory the juries should be totally unmoved by that sort of thing. There's always just the slight concern that the surge in the betting may be influenced by inside knowledge of how voting went in the semi, but I'm going to discount that theory and stick with my gut feeling - that Portugal is more of a natural third or fourth place, rather than a natural winner.
If it's not going to be Portugal, it surely has to be Italy. Apart from being possibly the best song in the contest on its own merits, it's also got no fewer than three irresistible gimmicks in the shape of the "ale!" chant, the gorilla, and the silly dance moves. One or two irresistible gimmicks have more than sufficed for previous Eurovision winners, so I strongly suspect Italy will at least win the public vote. If so, the million dollar question is what the juries will do - and there is a genuine warning here from the Sanremo Festival (which doubled as the Italian national selection), where the song failed to win the jury vote by quite some distance, and indeed was only barely in second place. So it's possible Italy may have to come from behind in the second stage of voting (as Ukraine did last year), but even if that's the case, I think they'll have just about enough public support to seal the win.
I've had a sneaking suspicion for a while that the betting may be underestimating Sweden somewhat - it's possible they may even outpoll Bulgaria on the public vote, although presumably the juries will favour the worthier Bulgarian entry. I'm still baffled by the expectations that Belgium could be in the top five - it's a great song, but it's very low-key, and I thought the live performance in the semi was distinctly ropey.
Winners : ITALY (Occidentali's Karma - Francesco Gabbani)
2nd : BULGARIA (Beautiful Mess - Kristian Kostov)
3rd : SWEDEN (I Can't Go On - Robin Bengtsson)
4th : PORTUGAL (Amar Pelos Dois - Salvador Sobral)
5th : MOLDOVA (Hey, Mamma! - Sunstroke Project)
Possible dark horses : Croatia, UK
There's been an authentic buzz about the UK in a way there hasn't been for many a year, but I think the fears of political voting are more than just paranoia, especially this year of all years. My guess is there'll be a respectable result on the jury vote, and then a rude awakening when the public vote is revealed.