World Cup Preview

The Snooker World Cup returns on Monday after a four-year absence with a 24-team tournament in Wuxi.

World Cup logoChina is the defending champion and they will go into the event as the only nation to boast two teams in the line-up – a special privilege given to the hosts.

The World Cup has been running intermittently since 1979 under various names, guises and formats.

It was a regular fixture on the calendar until 1990; Since there have only been two editions, although there were a few Nations Cups sandwiched in between during that period as well.

While I haven’t been scouring the social media platforms as much as I usually would – I’ll openly admit that I’m going to find the start of this campaign with all the stops and starts decidedly tedious – I still get the impression that there isn’t a very high degree of excitement for the 2015 World Cup overall.

There may be a few understandable reasons for this.

Firstly, the 2011 tournament played in Thailand was a pretty non-memorable affair that wasn’t helped by the fact that the arena in Bangkok was almost empty every day.

Wuxi, having staged a ranking event for the last three seasons, is a well-known destination for the players but, likewise, isn’t regarded as a venue that provides the best of atmospheres.

Secondly, the format isn’t really inspiring; two-man (or women) teams battling it out in short circumstances, which unfortunately is the norm nowadays.

The 24 teams are divided into four groups of six teams, with each nation playing the other once in the round-robin stage over the best of five frames.

The top two countries from each group go through to the quarter-finals, where the distance is increased to a whopping best of seven frames.

A mixture of singles and doubles ties, where the players alternate shot-taking responsibilities, determine the outcome of an encounter.

I remember being excited before the 2011 tournament, but in reality the format lends itself to spasmodic snooker that often isn’t particularly pleasing on the eye.

The truth is, though, to enable the amount of countries involved to take part, the teams need to be small and the format short.

And in reality, it’s a positive thing to give the teams outside of the regular cast an opportunity to flex their muscles on a big stage.

Indeed, while the overall champion will be expected to come from either Britain, Ireland, China or Australia, some of the smaller outfits might be capable of springing an upset or two.

India’s pairing of Aditya Mehta and Pankaj Advani are especially dangerous in Group A and could even be a dark horse for the title if they can find coherence in their play.

Uniquely, Kurt Maflin and Anita Maflin may be the first husband and wife marriage to compete alongside each other in a World Cup in any sport when they line up together for Norway.

Brazil’s Igor Figueiredo and Itaro Santos are a dynamic duo, while also in Group B is the Iranian team which features the talented 20 year-old Hossein Vafaei Ayouri.

Group D, meanwhile, has Dechawat Poomjaeng and Thepchaiya Un-Nooh coupled for Thailand in a difficult group that also boasts favourites England, Ireland and China B.

The English team consists of the last two world champions, Mark Selby and Stuart Bingham, while Ireland relies once again on stalwarts Ken Doherty and Fergal O’Brien.

The Dublin duo was among the three-man team that also included Stephen Murphy who narrowly lost to the Scottish dream team of Stephen Hendry, John Higgins and Alan McManus in the 1996 final.

Higgins is back for the Scots, this time alongside Stephen Maguire, while Wales has two competitors at opposite ends of their careers in Mark Williams and Michael White.

Northern Ireland, runners-up four years ago, is without Mark Allen but still offers a potentially dangerous side in Gerard Greene and Joe Swail.

China’s Ding Junhui and Xiao Guodong will attempt to defend the title on home turf, while Australia’s Neil Robertson and Vinnie Calabrese represent the other notable threat.

Hopefully this year’s World Cup is successful. Dramatic clashes that go down to the wire would help, but arguably more important is the evidence of a good atmosphere that will only be provided should the crowds turn up.

The full draw can be viewed here.


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