There is no doubt that the Great Britain and Northern Ireland nations will be among the main contenders for the 2011 Snooker World Cup.
In a few years time this may not primarily be the case as major events like this World Cup in Thailand hope to broaden snooker’s horizon’s across the globe.
Indeed, 19 different countries will take part when the event commences on the 11th July.
However, for the immediate future and with the exception of China, the United Kingdom and Republic of Ireland teams still pose the largest threat.
Yesterday, I looked at the latter pairing of Ken Doherty and Fergal O’Brien. Today, I will take a brief look at England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
Mark Selby and Ali Carter make up the English unit and on paper is a formidable team.
Both ranked inside the top six in the world, Selby and Carter were runner-up in the 2007 and 2008 World Championships respectively.
Since then, their form has been maintained at a constantly high level after several years in which they under-achieved as youngsters.
Selby’s two Masters crowns offered him widespread recognition while ‘Captain’ Carter has banked a brace of ranking event victories in the last couple of years.
Being a team event, form and class may or may not play a pivotal role – especially given the fact that this is the first time a tournament of this nature has been held in a decade.
Frequently, as is the case in golf and tennis, the team that can gel together can construct a relationship that is unbreakable and unbeatable.
Some of the other nations pop out as being more naturally interlinking but the English should be a force either way.
Their group, though, appears difficult with Northern Ireland and Belgium – Luca Brecel and Bjorn Haveveer – primary concerns.
Many quarters have labelled the Scottish duo of John Higgins and Stephen Maguire as the ‘Dream Team’.
However, based on the last couple of seasons a more accurate reflection on this would be the ‘Dream Team – featuring Stephen Maguire’.
That may come across as a little harsh on the Glaswegian but his form has been so consistently average for so long that it is a wonder he has remained inside the world’s top eight.
Higgins, on the other hand, has gone from strength to strength since claiming his second world title in 2007 having added a further two since.
The ‘Wizard of Wishaw’ is evidently the best player on the planet and it is foreseeable that he could carry his teammate to World Cup glory even if Maguire fails to light fire in Bangkok.
That said, it would be difficult for Higgins to prevent his level of performance from dropping throughout the entire week and will need his compatriot to step up to the baize on a few occasions.
One thing is for sure, if Maguire can find some of his old magic and Higgins plays like, well, Higgins, the rest of the field may find themselves sitting and admiring.
Scotland’s main rivals in Group D will be Hong Kong but will be wary of the second Thailand outfit in their backyard.
Top seeds, the Welsh have every right to feel that they should be regarded as the real dream team.
World number one Mark Williams is accompanied by two-time Crucible finalist Matthew Stevens in what must be considered an extremely dangerous pairing.
Ironically, both stars suffered a dramatic plummet down the rankings a few seasons ago but have since regained their rightful places among the elite with Williams going one step further and becoming the best player in the world for the third time in his career.
The attacking style from both will suit the format while the fact that they are good friends, enjoying banter on and off the table, will surely prove advantageous as well.
Wales is the first seed because of Williams’ premier ranking but they would be the most dangerous opposition in my eyes at any rate.
Both players have enjoyed tournament success in the last six months so will be riding a wave of confidence after promising campaigns.
Their main concern in the group stages will be Republic of Ireland, although the Germans could also be a threat.
A rejuvenated Mark Allen will lead the Northern Ireland team alongside Gerard Greene.
Allen has endured a difficult period in his life and career after admitting his battle with depression but showed signs of passion at the World Championship in April when he emotionally came from 9-6 behind to beat Matthew Stevens 10-9 in front of his 5 year-old daughter.
Greene has been a professional for almost 20 years but has never threatened the higher echelons of the sport.
Yet, the 37 year-old can be a tricky challenge on his day and his direct potting approach could prove win or bust in South East Asia.
Greene’s younger countryman, who has reached four ranking event semi-finals as well as the last four at The Masters, has a similar approach but with a greater success rate and will need to be at the top of his game if the Irish have aspirations of winning outright.
Like England, Northern Ireland will have to be wary of Belgium – sporting two Main Tour professionals – in what is arguably the most competitive group.
The group tables and format can be viewed by clicking here.