Eurovision 2021: rock band Maneskin wins song contest for Italy

Competition held for the first time since the coronavirus outbreak

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Italy won the Eurovision Song Contest on Saturday with rockers Maneskin stealing the show in Rotterdam as the tournament returned from a year off due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Clad in leather lederhosen and eyeliner, the Italians and their song Zitti E Buoni beat stiff competition from France and Switzerland to win the 65th Eurovision.

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 nail-biting finish capped a night of glitz and glamour in the Dutch port city, despite tough pandemic restrictions that limited the live audience at the Ahoy Arena to 3,500 people.

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

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.

The run-up 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.

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 that he suffers as a result of having Tourette Syndrome.

epa09221705 Maneskin from Italy with the song 'Zitti E Buoni' performs after winning the Grand Final of the 65th annual Eurovision Song Contest (ESC) at the Rotterdam Ahoy arena, in Rotterdam, The Netherlands, 22 May 2021. Due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, only a limited number of visitors is allowed at the 65th edition of the Eurovision Song Contest (ESC2021) that is taking place in an adapted form at the Rotterdam Ahoy.  EPA/ROBIN VAN LONKHUIJSEN
Italian rockers Maneskin won the first Eurovision event since the coronavirus outbreak. EPA.

Russia's contestant Manizha angered conservatives with her song Russian Woman – even as she wowed audiences during the semi-finals with a huge Russian doll-style dress that burst open to reveal the singer in a red boiler suit.

A year ago, the Rotterdam Ahoy venue was being used as a makeshift hospital for coronavirus victims, and the shadow of the disease still hung over this year's contest.

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 virus.

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 said.

"When something as big as this happens in Holland, you're going to join in," said Scharree, who herself recovered from being "very ill" with Covid-19 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, who lives in the Netherlands.