Sunday, 10 July 2011

Wonders of the world

If Barry Hearn's grand plan for snooker is about dreaming up refreshing new formats and globetrotting the game into the media spotlight - the PTT-EGAT World Cup surely ticks both boxes.

With 20 two-man teams raring to go in Thailand tomorrow, the first snooker world cup since 1996 promises to be a classic.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not one for too many new gimmicks in the game. But the reincarnation of national team event, in my opinion, fills a massive void in the sport's now impressive calendar.

Although there hasn't been an event easily comparable to this since England hosted the football European Championship some 15 years ago, I do have fond memories of the last set of snooker Nations Cups, held between 1999 and 2001.

Most notably, I remember watching Ronnie O'Sullivan, Stephen Lee, Jimmy White and John Parrott capturing the cup for England in 2000, beating Wales' team of Mark Williams, Matthew Stevens, Darren Morgan and Dominic 6-4 in the ITV-broadcast final.

When the television deal ended after Scotland's win a year later, that particular tournament was cast to ashes.

But now, with Hearn intent on putting a spring back in snooker's step, we have a fully-fledged World Cup back on the agenda.

The seven-day tournament will pit the two-men teams into four groups of five. Each team will play four five-frame matches, similar to the Davis Cup Davis Cup with two singles frames, doubles with alternate shots and then reverse singles.

The top two teams in each group will progress to the knockout quarter-final stages where the same format will remain until a winner is crowned in the final.

I can't help but see Wales and Scotland as the two superpowers of this event, and the two to beat. With Matthew Stevens alongside Mark Williams and John Higgins paired with Stephen Maguire, not only do you have four very able players including the top two ranked players in the world, but they're also good friends too.

As with any team sport, spirit is important. These two teams are likely to have a great team ethos.

Just behind the two favourites will be England, made up of today's Wuxi Classic finalists Mark Selby and Ali Carter. Both playing well and blessed with an incredible match snooker streak, I'd expect to see them in the latter stages of the event.

Elsewhere, I'll be keeping a careful on Northern Ireland too. With Mark Allen and Gerard Greene, two top 32 players, they know what it takes to play at the top level. They're more than capable of capitalising on any slip-ups from the big boys.

If experience is the key, Republic of Ireland's Ken Doherty and Fergal O'Brien will surely be a good bet, but if a mix works better, seasoned professional Bjorn Haneveer and raw talent Luca Brecel could be dark horses for Belgium.

There's a lot of noise about China's hopes as well. With Ding Junhui and Liang Wenbo, there's talent in abundance, but we all know how desperately Liang has been struggling over the last year or so.

Further down the pecking order, hosts Thailand have two teams made up of James Wattana, Passakorn Suwannawat, Thepchaiya Un Nooh and Dechawat Poomjaeng. They could spring a surprise, and Neil Robertson leads Australia along with capable amateur Steve Mifsud.

With so many teams capable of playing a starring role, that's what probably makes the tournament so exciting. Eurosport will again be showing the action.

For a full run-down of the groups and schedule, visit,,13165~2375432,00.html

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