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Russia through to Eurovision final

Do Not UseDo Not Use 11/05/2016 By Mark Savage

Russia and the Netherlands have made it through to the final of the Eurovision Song Contest following the first semi-final on Tuesday night.

Russian star Sergey Lazarev is widely tipped to win on Saturday with his techno ballad, You Are The Only One.

The country traditionally places highly in the competition, but was beaten to second place by Sweden's Mans Zelmerlow last year.

However, the semi saw Iceland fail to qualify for the second year in a row.

A total of 18 countries took part in Tuesday's competition, but only 10 made it through to the Grand Final.

They were Armenia, Austria, Azerbaijan, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Hungary, Malta, Netherlands and Russia.

It was particularly good news for the Czech Republic, as this was the first time since the semi-final system was introduced in 2004 that they have qualified.

"It's a historical moment for my country," said singer Gabriela Guncikova.

"We got an opportunity to create something great, and I feel honoured that we are here now."

'I was nervous'

Sergey Lazarev, who hails from Sochi, is a huge pop star in Russia and started his music career as part of the teen-pop group Neposedy, alongside Julia Volkova and Lena Katina of t.A.T.u, who represented Russia at the 2003 Eurovision Song Contest.

He subsequently joined the boyband Smash!! before going solo in 2004. His Eurovision appearance follows the release of a successful greatest hits album last year.

"I am happy that we got to the final," he said after qualifying.

"The show was amazing. I was nervous, to be honest, but now I am just happy."

The Netherlands also emerged as strong contenders on the night, thanks to a low-key, country-inspired ballad by 23-year-old Douwe Bob.

Performing Slow Down on live television "felt brilliant", he said after the show.

"It didn't feel like I was performing for 150 million people. The people were screaming - this was all I hoped for."

UK odds slashed

The second semi-final on Thursday will see performances from former Westlife singer Nicky Byrne, representing Ireland, and Ukraine's Jamala, whose politically-charged song, 1944, has angered Russia.

The track discusses Josef Stalin's enforced wartime deportation of the Tatar people - one of whom was Jamala's great-grandmother. Thousands died during the journey or starved to death after they arrived.

UK contestants Joe and Jake will also make a pre-recorded cameo during the second semi-final, although their entry qualifies automatically, as the UK is one of the "big five" contributors to the EBU, which hosts the competition.

Although they are unlikely to win, the pair have had their odds slashed from 50/1 to 25/1 following their first rehearsal in the Swedish capital, Stockholm.

Wherever they end up, the duo are almost guaranteed to defeat last year's entrants, Electro Velvet, who picked up a measly five points in Vienna.

Speaking to the BBC on Tuesday, Joe Woolford said he hoped to break the UK's losing streak.

"We've done a lot of preparation, we've been rehearsing non-stop, we've been practising movement, we've been running in and out of the studio," he said.

"We want to get a good result for the UK."

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