Italy win Eurovision as contest returns with 'message of hope'

Italy win Eurovision as contest returns with 'message of hope'

ROTTERDAM: Italian rockers Maneskin won the Eurovision Song Contest in Rotterdam on Saturday, hailing the kitschy tournament´s return from a year off due to coronavirus as bringing a message of hope to the world.

The high-kicking lederhosen and eyeliner-wearing Italians, who were favourites for victory, beat off stiff competition from France and Switzerland with their song "Zitti e Buoni".

Italy´s third Eurovision win and its first since 1990 capped a night of glitz and glamour in the Dutch port city, despite tough pandemic restrictions that limited the live audience to just 3,500 people.

"We just want to say to the whole Europe, to the whole world, rock and roll never dies," singer Damiano David shouted as he picked up the microphone-shaped glass Eurovision trophy.

But there was heartbreak for French singer Barbara Pravi, who came agonisingly close to ending her country´s 44 years of hurt since its last Eurovision win with her moody number "Voila".

The competition in Rotterdam was cancelled last year for the first time in the history of the 65-year tournament, one of the world´s most-watched television events with around 200 million viewers.

This time 12 months ago the Ahoy Arena venue was being used as a makeshift hospital for the pandemic.

But the theme of this year´s Eurovision was "Open Up", and the Dutch government-backed coronavirus restrictions could be a model for events such as Euro 2020 and the Tokyo Olympics as the world slowly emerges from lockdown.

- ´Message of hope´ -

The Italians lit up the stage with their bare-chested, punk-funk rock which they sang in their native language.

In a nailbiting finish, they lay in fourth place after a vote by national juries that left Switzerland in the lead, before a huge public vote sent them soaring into the lead with 524 points.

Bassist Victoria De Angelis said their victory "could be a message of hope" to Italy, which was particularly hard-hit by the virus.

"We´re honoured to be bringing it back after 31 years," she said.

After letting off a bottle of champagne over his bandmates during a press conference, singer David said the win would be good for Italy and Europe.

"We think that the whole event was a relief" after the deaths, pain and restrictions to normal life caused by coronavirus, David told reporters.

"It was really incredible, the whole event, this Eurovision is going to be a lighthouse."

Switzerland´s Gjon Muharremaj, 22, was the surprise package of the night, ending up in third place with the Sam Smith-style ballad "Tout l´Univers".

Britain, which remains in Eurovision despite leaving the European Union, meanwhile suffered the humiliation of achieving the dreaded "nul points", winning none from either the juries or the public.

- ´New start´ -

The run-up to Eurovision featured coronavirus scares, with Iceland´s entry Dadi og Gagnamagnid ruled out of performing live when a band member tested positive for Covid.

Dutch 2019 winner Duncan Laurence meanwhile was also unable to take to the stage after coming down with symptoms of the disease during rehearsals this week.

But the mood of the love-it or hate-it extravaganza was relentlessly upbeat, with the focus back on where it should be -- the weird and wonderful songs, cheesy lyrics and flamboyant costumes.

Other highlights included Norway´s contestant Tix, who took to the stage in huge white angel wings, and who takes his stage name from the tics of his Tourette´s Syndrome.

Cyprus´ entry "El Diablo" (Spanish for "The Devil") was meanwhile accused of blasphemy and satanism by the Cyprus Orthodox Church and religious groups.

Contestants were in a "bubble" during the competition and every one of the thousands of people entering the Eurovision site had to be tested for coronavirus.

But that failed to dissuade fans from turning up to celebrate.

"I think it´s the beginning of a new start," Saskia Scharree, 51, wearing a white and orange blazer decorated with traditional blue Dutch pottery designs, told AFP outside the arena.

"When something as big as this happens in Holland, you´re going to join in," said Scharree, who said she had herself recovered from being "very ill" with coronavirus last year.

Flag-waving Finnish fan Oona Sainio, 27, said she and her family had come to soak up the atmosphere despite not having tickets.

"We´re big Eurovision fans and we wanted to be close to where it´s all happening," said Sainio, 27, who lives in the Netherlands.

Eurovision also had its first transgender host, with Dutch YouTube star Nikkie de Jager, better known as NikkieTutorials, joining the presenting team.

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