Destiny Chukunyere placed seventh in the Eurovision Song Contest, Malta's best result in the competition since 2005 but something of a disappointment for a singer who ranked among the favourites. 

Italy, the bookmakers' favourite going into Saturday's final in Rotterdam, emerged victorious on the night with the song Zitti e Buoni by Maneskin after securing a massive jump of 318 points in the public vote.

Malta's singer Destiny, with the song Je Me Casse, had high hopes after a strong showing in the jury vote that left her in third place.

But, as has often happened in the past, those hopes collapsed when it came to the public vote, with Malta picking up just 47 points from across Europe. 

Her seventh place finish is Malta's best since 2005, when Chiara placed second with the song Angel. 

But it continues the country's record of being the most successful participant to never win the competition. 

Destiny had been among the bookmakers' favourites to win, sitting in third before the competition, down from first before she arrived in Rotterdam. 

France, with the song Voila sung by Barbara Pravi finished second. Switzerland's Gjon's Tears, with the song Tout l'Univer, was something of a surprise outfit, placing third, while Iceland's fan favourite Daði Freyr came fourth.

At the bottom end of the table, the UK's James Newman, a Grammy-nominated songwriter, ended the competition with 0 points in both the jury and televote.

Italy's victory

It was Italy's third Eurovision win and its first since 1990, on a night which went ahead amid strict protocols including mass testing and an audience limited to 3,500 people.

The theme of this year's Eurovision was "Open Up", and the Dutch government-backed coronavirus restrictions could be a model for mass events such as Euro 2020 and the Tokyo Olympics.

Maneskin, featuring three men and one woman, said the whole evening of stomping songs and flamboyant costumes would bring cheer after more than a year of COVID-19.

"We think that the whole event was a relief", singer Damiano David said after showering his bandmates with champagne during a press conference.

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

Bassist Victoria De Angelis said their victory "could be a message of hope" to Italy, which was one of the countries in Europe hardest hit by the virus.

"We're honoured to be bringing it back after 31 years," she said of the Eurovision title, which means Italy is due to host next year.

'I don't use drugs'

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.

In a battle of contrasts, her emotional Edith Piaf-style performance on a dark stage went up against the Italians' bare-chested, punk-funk rock. Both sang in their native languages.

A nailbiting finish ensured as Maneskin 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.

"Rock and roll never dies," singer David shouted as he picked up the microphone-shaped glass Eurovision trophy.

He later strongly denied taking drugs, after footage on social media showed him bent over a table during the competition. "I don't use drugs. Please, guys. Don't say that really, no cocaine," he told the press conference.

The band's name comes from the Danish word for moonlight, as de Angelis is half Danish and they honed their craft by busking before taking part in talent show the X Factor in 2017.

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 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.

And 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 -- though they still managed to finish fourth.

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.

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 the mood of the love-it or hate-it extravaganza was relentlessly upbeat.

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.

Fans turned out despite the restrictions.

"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.

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.

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