Serbian ballad wins Eurovision Song Contest - Belgrade hosts in 2008
Finnish entry beats out Sweden but finishes well down the field
Congratulations to the Serbian entry Molitva, performed by Marija Serifovic, which came through the semi-final stage and went on to take the big prize at the final of 2007 Eurovision Song Contest in Helsinki on Saturday night.
The powerful ballad collected 268 votes and was consistently at the head of the field, despite stiff resistance from the very different Ukrainian performance, which eventually took second place with 235 points.
In a procession of countries from Eastern Europe and the so-called “new Europe” that appears to herald a change in the power balance of Eurovision, Serbia and Ukraine were joined in the top ten by Russia (207 points), Turkey, Bulgaria, Belarus, Greece, Armenia, Hungary, and Moldova.
The Finnish song Leave Me Alone by Hanna Pakarinen came in 17th, with 53 points, including 12 from neighbours Sweden.
Whilst it means Finland will have to qualify through the semi-finals next year, there was some consolation of a sort in that the entry beat the highly-fancied Swedish song from The Ark (18th), and indeed also such past Eurovision superpowers as Germany (19th), France (22nd), the UK (23rd), and the five-time winners Ireland, who took the jumbo spot in 24th.
Nobody suffered the ignominy of "nul points", though for a while it looked as if the UK song might be heading that way.
There will doubtless be the usual carping about regional voting of the "you scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours" variety and the strong showing of countries with a large European diaspora, such as Turkey, but even without the "Balkan advantage" of a lot of generous neighbours, the Serbian offering had a lot going for it, and it collected votes steadily across the board.
The song was among the ante-post favourites to win the competition, along with other eventual front-runners Ukraine, and Russia and Belarus. Sweden’s showing was something of a disappointment, on the other hand. Until quite recently, The Ark's The Worrying Kind had been the punters' favourite.
Finland collected a maximum 12 points from both Sweden and Iceland, and the host nation gave its maximum to the winners, Serbia.
One interesting detail was that Estonia gave 12 points to Russia - probably a reflection more of the activity of the ethnic Russian minority in Estonia than of any real signs of rapprochement in the wake of the recent war memorial dispute between the two countries.
The bubblegum dance of the UK's Flying the Flag (For You) was rescued from crash-landing by Malta and Ireland, who bailed the song out in yet another example of the sort of local solidarity that has so irked some Eurovision pundits. It had no other friends in Helsinki, and apparently few at home, either.
Many will have expected the rock direction of Lordi’s win in Athens to have been continued, but this time the televoters picked a sensitive ballad over the camp fun and glitter of Ukraine’s Verka and the three “angry” Russian girls. Finland’s Hanna Pakarinen came off second-best in the competition for the rock audience's favours, since the main rival Moldova squeezed into the top ten with twice the number of votes.
As a show, Eurovision 2007 will have done Finland no harm at all - the presentation was professional and certainly not as cringeworthy as many had feared in advance.
Even the presence of "The World’s Most Famous Finn" Santa Claus to herald the start of the voting and award the trophy went over rather well, as did Lordi's opening video and the spot - while the votes were added up - given to cello rockers Apocalyptica.
Congratulations are due to the MCs Mikko Leppilampi and Jaana Pelkonen (and to "dumb blonde" Krisse Salminen in the Green Room and among 20,000 fans watching on a big screen in the Senate Square), and to the Finnish Broadcasting Company YLE for a job well done.
The direction was slick, and in particular the lighting work by Mikki Kunttu has deservedly won international praise.
After all the hard work, they've earned themselves a party.
But the Serbs will wake up on Sunday knowing they have to face one of the most daunting tests for any broadcaster: Eurovision does not come cheap, and it is not exactly a piece of cake to arrange.
More on this subject:
Eastern European countries among surprise winners in Eurovision Song Contest semifinals
Nearly the best Eurovision Song Contest ever
A selection of pictures from Saturday night - captions are in Finnish for now.
Videos of entries in ESC 2007
Eurovision Song Contest (YLE)