Eurovision favourites Croatia, Ukraine qualify for grand final

By Tom Little and Isabelle Yr Carlsson

MALMO (Reuters) - Croatia and Ukraine, two favourites to win Eurovision 2024, were among the first 10 contestants to qualify for the competition's grand final on Saturday, following an initial round of semi-finals in Malmo Arena on Tuesday.

Fans in quirky and glittery outfits waved flags from the participating countries inside the arena, with many dressed up as their favourite contestant or in their national colours.

Croatia's Baby Lasagna (real name Marko Purisic, 28) and Ukrainian duo, alyona alyona 28, and Jerry Heil, 32, are both among bookmakers' top five together with Italy, Netherlands and Switzerland to win the music kitsch-fest.

Streaming data from Spotify also suggests a strong chance for host nation Sweden.

"For Ukraine this is a big platform ... I think this is the place where you can state your mind freely, openly and for the world to listen," Ukrainian fan Victoria said, as she arrived ahead of the show.

Ukraine's folk-inflected pop song "Teresa & Maria", which has a strong dance beat and fast-paced rap, is about union, kindness and love, as well as the resilience and strength of women, according to its performers.

Eurovision fans Ross Stewart and Ivo Vasilev from Britain arrived ahead of the show dressed as Croatia's Baby Lasagna.

"We tried to recreate it with what we could buy off Amazon. So we decided, because he's performing tonight, to dress up as him," Stewart said.

The artist's entry "Rim Tim Tagi Dim" is about a young Croatian who leaves his home aspiring to become a "city boy" with better opportunities.

Security was high around Malmo arena, but police said the evening went as planned.

Cyprus, Finland, Ireland, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Portugal, Serbia and Slovenia also advanced to Saturday's grand final.

Former Eurovision contestant, Eric Saade, made a guest performance with a black and white keffiyeh scarf wrapped around his wrist.

Eurovision bills itself as a non-political event and organisers have resisted calls to boycot Israel from this year's competition, sparking protest from artists and ministers.

Much focus is expected to be on Israel's Eden Golan and her song "Hurricane" in the second semi-final on Thursday, with bookmakers placing her among the top 10 to win the competition.

(Reporting by Tom Little in Malmo and Isabelle Yr Carlsson in Copenhagen; Editing by Louise Rasmussen and Stephen Coates)