And now we cross over to John Motson at the Saku Suurhall in Tallinn for full match commentary on the 47th Eurovision Song Contest which, remarkably, takes the form of a review as well. John...
Thank you Gary. A short time ago, in a continent many miles from London, 24 nations assembled in the Estonian capital Tallinn to compete in the Eurovision Song Contest - and let's not forget that it was held there thanks to the massive 198 points scored by local stars Tanel Padar and Dave Benton in the Parken Stadium in May 2001. Of course, it was more the off-pitch relationship between Benton and Padar which got everybody talking so you won't believe what we've just witnessed here Gary - the pair of them back on the same stage singing last year's winner Everybody together. Although I'm sure the eagle-eyed among you will have noticed they didn't actually look at each other during that performance.
But it's this year we're interested in, and I'm sure we're all glad to see hosts Annely and Marko arrive on stage as those battling popsters revolve away to the dressing room for an early bath. I'm sure you all recall the piece of Estonian folklore surrounding these two - a Tallinn-based coven only let them have the hosting job if they accepted the following curses; Marko had to have an embarrassing hairstyle throughout his time on stage and Annely had to speak as though somebody had inserted a snooker cue up her bottom. I'm glad to see they're both smiling depsite this. Rumours that these two aren't receiving the union-sanctioned wage for the job may also be well-founded as the pair are openly endorsing the use of recreational drugs in front of an audience of millions. That same coven must have seen the need to spirit them away from the stage, Gary, because all of a sudden we are in the middle of the postcard introducing the first nation to sing, Cyprus.
The Cypriots haven't fielded the full eleven men, opting for just five instead, although there is a female sub lurking on the touchline, but I'm sure FIFA will have to negotiate with the EBU over the legality of this. The manager has taken the innovative move of putting all five of ONE in a striker position, and, desperate to take an early lead they made a ferocious attack from midfield right into the penalty box in less than ten seconds. I think you have to look back to 1984 when a group of high-spirited males took advantage of the opening slot so effectively. Unfortunately, I don't think these five are wearing the right boots to get a good grip on the scoreboard. A pity, as I'm sure you are aware they sold most of their clothes to make sure all five of them could get plane tickets to Estonia. It's a good uptempo stomper with lyrics even Bobby Robson could remember in the post-match analysis but I think the ugly lead singer could have sent many viewers into the kitchen to hide for three minutes.
And this is the moment I know a lot of you at home in Britain have been waiting for, as it's the turn of Jessica Garlick, a girl whom I know has never been to France, to sing the 45th United Kingdom entry in this Eurovision Song Contest. She's hoping to break the 94 point collective score Britain has received in its worst three year run in probably any sort of competition, and she's certainly got the voice to provide that all-important support upfront. The British coach has put her on the right wing, but she's got five experienced defenders at the rear and they'll be making doubly sure they don't let her down. The tension has obviously affected Garlick as she's been tearing away at her outfit in the dressing room, but this doesn't stop her giving Come Back the soulful gusto of a last-minute Beckham free-kick against Greece, and she doesn't have any metatarsal worries either. The nerves show on the line 'I need you so bad', but she looks good and from this performance, I'd say a place in the last 10 isn't impossible - but we all know how the Brits can farre in this contest.
Estonian Television have very kindly turned this, their first hosting of the contest, into the Bobby Robson Benefit Night as the Austrian Say A Word is another one the current Newcastle boss would struggle to forget. Rumours that Austro-Spaniard player Manuel Ortega had received secret coaching from American squad Free have proved unfounded after an investigation and a last-minute snap decision saw Ortega joined by a large group of subs as the chorus began. Rumours that a throat injury had hampered his chances of getting on the team sheet are equally unfounded. Another uptempo one, forming the other slice of bread in a balladic Garlick sandwich, if you'll pardon the expression Gary, and the Austrians have taken a tip from the British and used the right wing to its full advantage. The team strip is mostly black, so let's hope the spotlights don't fail, but they seem to have the crowd on their side. Mrs Ortega would be proud of her little boy, but the spirit of '66 isn't an exclusively English desperate memory of greatness.
I'm sure you are aware by now of the confusion at Greek Television which saw the Athens American Football squad sent on the flight to Tallinn by mistake with only their match gear to wear onstage. Full marks to Greece, though, for writing their song on the back of a wet-wipe as the descent into Estonia began. Their confidence cannot be denied, playing right upfront to the crowd and performing an ill-advised dance routine to S.A.G.A.P.O, which I believe translates as 'Slovenians And Greeks Are Pretty Odd' after what I've seen in the warm-up matches. It's delivered staccato fashion, but we all know you need a smooth flow to your game to do well in this arena. You can't deny their originality, Gary, and they've got pluck and determination in buckets, but I'm not convinced by this performance. They can always rely on the Cypriot linesmen to show leniency, but it will take more than them to put them on the winner's podium.
You've got to hand it to the Spaniards. Months and months of intensive pre-tournament training has made singer Rosa hungry for success, not to mention hungry for the six Estonian contest technicians she was rumoured to have eaten backstage just moments before her confident stride onto the pitch. I know we can't appreciate the feeling in Spain from here, Gary, but I can tell you that if Rosa doesn't go home with the trophy there'll be questions asked and there is the possibility coach Nina may be asked to resign. However, Rosa'a defence is also strong, each one coming from the same Academy as herself and they certainly don't let the crowd settle as Europe's Living a Celebration gets them going from the first note. Despite intensive work on the word 'Europe' and how it should be pronounced, Rosa still can't overcome that particular Achilles heel, but even Pele had his foibles. Another striker in a black strip, she is joined upfront by her fellow male players in the second half in an inspired move to consolidate on the good work done in the first. I'd watch out for this one, Gary.
Post-warm-up rumblings suggested we might look out for Croatia's Vesna Pisarovic and her song Everything I Want. And I'm sure you don't need me to tell you that this is the first singer to successfully bring a whip on stage with her, although French singer Nayah did request one in 1999 with which to flay her backing singers during her performance in Jerusalem, but this is the first time it's been allowed in the actual show. Vesna can also be described as the Carol Vorderman of song, Gary, as her dark beauty and copious amounts of foundation betray a real talent for belting a tune out - as opposed to doing hard sums, but I'm sure you get my analogy. This classy mid-tempo number also saw Pisarovic make the bold move of striding into the audience's half, clearly on the attack, before her three minutes were up. Croatia's 10th appearance on this world stage, and it surely won't be their last, unless they get relegated of course, or she strangles herself with that whip during the voting.
You could say that the Russian and Cypriot coaches have been exchanging tactics, as they too fielded a small group of young pretenders, but I am concerned about at least one of them's ability to make a fifty yard scramble for goal. How refreshing too, Gary, that this song, from a group naming themselves Prime Minister after our very own Mr Blair, appears to be in tribute to old music hall star Gracie Fields, especially as this particular contest can see nations up against each other in cut-throat confrontations. Those Russians must love us Brits, and no mistake. The strip is white and in one line of Northern Girl, they note that Gracie "never cries and fights like a girl," so they've been doing their homework. Fancy footwork too from these, only the sixth entrants from Russia, but I still don't know where the CCCP is on their shirts.
Sahlene for hosts Estonia may have sneaked into Prime Minister's dressing room and taken one of their spare strips for her performance of Runaway, which may or may not have been in reference to Padar and Benton's victory in 2001. Interesting too, that our Estonian hosts went to the transfer market for their star player instead of local hero Ines, but the crowd have certainly adopted Sahlene as one of their own. She won't let them down either as this is the first real belted-out performance of the night. You've got to hand it to the young Swede, standing in one spot for her whole performance and not one challenger with the balls to take the spotlight away from her. I really belive she can fly near the top of this scoreboard with this one, Gary, and Estonia's place as a constant contender in this tournament is assured. In fact, I think the voters may put her on a par with our very own Jessica.
I notice the entrants from the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia haven't ironed the name of their nation onto their strip, but lead singer Karolina is so slim there just wouldn't be room. This is Macedonia's third attempt to escape from the official Tomy-sponsored Eurovision Yo-Yo League having been promoted from last season, but the critics think she'll be right back down there come the final whistle. She can't have been shielded from these facts either, Gary, as she hides behind a large Quaver for the duration of the intro before finally making that actually-quite-short walk to the centre circle. Od Nas Zavisi is ethnic and mid-tempo, not dissimilar to Croatia, but the request for the whip must have been turned down - probably due to the fact this is only Macedonia's third time on the Eurovision stage and you need experience for such moves. Good to see that Macedonian television have been speaking to Manchester United's marketing department though, as Karolina introduced a brand new strip for the second half of the performance, so her fans will be dashing off to the souvenir shop for that after the show. Perhaps paying for it with the money they've saved to follow Macedonia into Europe next year.
A lot of off-pitch wranglings could well affect Israel's chances this year which is an unfair way to punish star-signing Sarit Hadad with the, some might say, hypocritically titled Light A Candle. The Estonians may have already shown some dissent by employing the official contest hairdresser to tend to Sarit's locks with a knife and fork. And perhaps Hadad's worries are reflected by the very tight formation Israel are showing midfield, as this is the first team to have three up-front at the kick-off, and Sarit's wingers are armed with potentially lethal violins to deter any dirty tackles. This is a squad with almost thirty year's experience of this tournament however, and they're using the moves of pros - attacking hard in the chorus and making bold moves towards the crowd. In any other year I'd be marking this down as a dark horse, but this one's got anaemia, and it's anybody's fault but Sarit's.
Switzerland seem to be fielding a tired squad of late, content to go through the Eurovision motions and retire to the dressing room for two years. This year is no exception and I'm durprised Francine Jordi made it through the qualifying stages with Dans Le Jardin de Mon Ame, but then again, there actually weren't any qualifying stages in the first place. Interesting tactics though, in asking Francine to borrow Halle Berry's face for the evening to see if this would sway voters still reeling from her horribly nice Academy Award acceptance speech. Ill-advised tactics though, and the original contest winners are surely in a sorry state almost fifty years on. And I'm sure I'm not the only one who's thinking this, I'm sure some of you at home are pondering the same thought - where are Peter, Sue and Marc when yoou need them? Still, you can always sing Light A Candle in the chorus if you get bored.
For a team predicting gold, perhaps they're showing last-minute doubts by wearing silver, but Sweden's Afro-Dite have, of course, just been awarded the Kolig Kai Trophy for Pre-Tournament Cockiness backstage for their continual statements that Never Let it Go, their song, can't possibly lose. Nice to see they've referred back to eighties giants The Pointer Sisters for their look and sound, but they're hoping to emulate the classic Ulvaeus/Andersson formation on the scoreboard for a 1974-style result. They've certainly showed a lot of energy from the first blast of the whistle and there's silver foil fluttering in all directions to distract the opposition. But I must say, Gary, this is *not* the performance the pre-contest single release promised. It's messy, there's too much going on upfront that looks unassured and there's no panache to the hookline. Once again, Sweden have started this tournament as favourites, but if Sven is watching, he'll be holding his head in his hands right now. All I can is say at the moment is "Oh dear," and I'd better spare the three ladies' blushes by moving straight on.