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Sweden favorite for Eurovision Song Contest as Ukraine and Russia entries split supporters

Sometimes described as the World Cup without the football, the 59th edition of the Eurovision Song Contest is played out tonight in Denmark. Sweden is the favorite to win.

The event has so many entries, there are two semifinals held during the preceding week to bring the final down to twenty six songs. Israel and seven-time winners Ireland both failed to get to the final.

Saturday night's event is being held in a renovated former shipyard in Copenhagen, as Denmark won the competition last year and so hosts this year's edition. Costs are estimated at around 36 million euros ($49.5 million) with a television audience across Europe in the hundreds of millions.

The contest with flamboyantly dressed artists singing on behalf of their country is a unique event in European pop music with many of the artists singing songs written in English.

First to sing is the entry from Ukraine, Mariya Yaremchuk with her entry TickTock. The stage presentation includes a man running inside a giant rotating wheel. The singer is aware of her position as a representative of Ukraine, much in recent headlines: "We will try to unite people with the language of music and Eurovision would be the best way to do so," she said.

Russia's entry, the 17-year-old twin Tolmachevy sisters, were greeted with some boos from the ten thousand strong audience at their semifinal on Tuesday with some in the audience saying it was a response to Russia's actions in Ukraine, and others saying it was a statement against Russia's anti-gay legislation.

Austria's Conchita Wurst, a cross-dressing drag queen with dramatic eye makeup and a neat beard, with the ballad Rise Like a Phoenix was given loud applause for her semifinal performance on Thursday and is being cited as likely runner up. "The beard is a statement to say that you can achieve anything, no matter who you are or how you look," said Wurst.

Next in line is the German entry, Elaiza, made up of vocalist Ela Steinmetz, accordionist Yvonne Grünwald and contrabassist Natalie Plöger with the song they wrote themselves, Is it right. Germany has won twice before - in 2010 with Lena's Satellite and in 1982 with Nicole's Ein bißchen Frieden (A little Peace). Germany has finished last five times.

Greece's entry, the duo of singers Freaky Fortune and Londoner RiskyKidd, are to perform their entry Rise Up, a hip-hop-rap-dance finishing on a brightly-lit trampoline.

France and Italy both perform in their own languages. The French entry Twin Twin with their song Moustache owes a little in its approach to South Korea's Gangnam Style but its chorus of 'I wanna moustache' is likely to have its supporters. Italy's Emma with La Mia Città (My Town) owes more to tatooed Punk.

Heading the betting going into the final was Sweden's Sanna Nielsen, with her song Undo followed by Armenia's Aram MP3, with his song Not Alone which has already had 2.7 million hits on YouTube, and the entry from the Netherlands, The Common Linnets with Calm After The Storm. Sweden won the contest two years ago. The rank outsider was the entry from Slovenia, flautist Tinkara Kovac.

jm/kms (dpa, Reuters)

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