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Italy, Portugal Eyed as Favorites as Ukraine Hosts Eurovision Final

Fans wave flags before the Eurovision Song Contest 2017 Grand Final at the International Exhibition Center in Kyiv, Ukraine, May 13, 2017.

The Ukrainian capital, Kyiv, is bracing to host the final of the 2017 Eurovision Song Contest, the annual europop song fest that is expected to garner a television audience of some 200 million.

The final on Saturday will feature performers from 26 countries, including artists from Belarus, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Moldova and Ukraine.

Italy's Francesco Gabbani and Portugal's Salvador Sobral have been touted as the favorites, according to bookmakers. The youngest entrant, Bulgaria's Kristian Kostov, has been ranked third.

This year's competition saw some controversy when Ukraine barred Russia's entry, Yulia Samoilova, from coming to Kyiv because she had performed in the Russia-annexed Ukrainian region of Crimea in 2015.

Russia, in response, decided not to allow her to participate by video or to send another contestant. Russia has also decided not to show the event on television.

Ukraine, the host country which reached the finals automatically by virtue of winning the event last year, has chosen a rock band called O. Torvald to represent the country.

Ukraine is hosting the competition for the second time, having previously done the honors in 2005.

Security is reportedly intense, as the country is fighting a conflict against Russia-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine

Croatian pop-opera, Romanian yodeling, and Hungarian gypsy fusion will also feature in the final round of the competition.

Forty-two countries competed in the earlier rounds of the competition to try to be among the 26 finalists.

Performers from the so-called big five -- Britain, Germany, France, Italy, and Spain -- automatically qualified for the finals as those countries are the biggest financial contributors to the European Broadcasting Union (EBU).

The 2017 rendition is the 62nd Eurovision contest. It began in 1956 with just seven entrants. The country with the most wins is Ireland, with seven.

Some material for this report came from Reuters, AP and AFP.