The wildest major of the year commences this evening, as the PDC stages the 8th edition of the World Cup of Darts in Germany.
32 nations spanning 6 continents will battle for the £300,000 prize fund and £60,000 winner’s cheque. 64 players will proudly represent their countries and dream of lifting the trophy on Sunday night.
Passionate fans from across the globe will descend upon the Eissporthalle in Frankfurt- creating the most colourful, diverse atmosphere the sport has to offer.
A tournament renowned for dramatic upsets and breakthrough performances over the years, the unique team format always produces incredible entertainment.
With first-round matches once again a pairs contest over the best of 9 legs, the arena will be full of tension and excitement as the big-hitters try desperately to avoid a humiliating early exit.
20 players will make their World Cup debuts, including World Champion Rob Cross and China’s Momo Zhou- only the 2nd female ever to compete in the extravaganza.
Defending Champions The Netherlands are seeking a 4th crown- with World No.1 Michael van Gerwen and 5-time World Champion Raymond van Barneveld once again leading the line.
The dynamic Dutch duo are strong favourites to retain the title they captured 12 months ago against surprise finalists Wales.
Seeded 3rd, courtesy of van Barnevelds lower ranking, they face Gibraltar in the opening round on Friday night in the bottom half of the draw.
Expected to easily negotiate the early rounds, there is a strong prospect of a mouth-watering semi-final against closest rivals England.
For Wales, incidentally, Gerwyn Price returns after last year’s heroics with Johnny Clayton replacing Mark Webster after his rapid ascent up the Order of Merit in the past year.
It marks the end of Webster’s ever-present record in the event. He captained the side to a runners-up spot at the inaugural showcase, back in 2010.
Clayton reached the Final of the European Championships last fall before defeating new teammate Price to claim a maiden European Tour title in Austria last month.
Form suggests another strong showing might be on the cards for the Welshmen if they can now co-exist on the stage.
Peter Wright and Gary Anderson are once again top seeds after stellar individual performances on the PDC circuit.
The proud Scotsmen- ranked 2 and 3 in the world respectively- will seek redemption after suffering the most shocking upset in the competitions history in 2017.
Since their jaw dropping first-round defeat by unheralded Singapore last time out, they have scooped up 10 PDC titles between them.
Incredibly, for the talent available amongst their ranks, Scotland has never won this coveted event. In fact, they can consider one run to the final in 2015 a huge underachievement as a nation.
Having drawn the vastly experienced USA team, Scottish fans might fear a second consecutive slip on the banana skin.
60 year-old veteran Larry Butler won the first World Matchplay tournament way back in 1994. He also reached the final of the BDO World Masters as recently as 2015 proving his career is far from finished.
‘The Bald Eagle’ joins forces with ever-present US team member Darin Young, himself a serial winner on the North American circuit- with 9 World Championship appearances under his belt as well.
Neither will be scared to beat the Scots should the opportunity present itself.
World Champion Rob Cross continues his incredible record of having qualified for every eligible major tournament since he gained his Tour Card barely 18 months ago.
He debuts alongside 2017 semi-finalist Dave Chisnall for 4-time winners England.
Although the English are the most prolific winners since the tournaments inception, they have never triumphed without Phil Taylor and Adrian Lewis launching the arrows.
But, combine Cross’ finishing prowess with ‘Chizzy’s power scoring and they should be no match for the Czech Republic on Friday night. Many will fancy their chances as out-right contenders.
Chinese sensation Momo Zhou will be caught in a media frenzy tonight. She becomes the 1st woman to compete in the World Cup since 3-time Women’s World Champion Anastasia Dobromyslova represented Russia in 2010.
Hoping to blaze a trail for women in the sport, Zhou came through qualifying with a highly respectable average of 83.5 in her final match.
With a potential audience of 1.4 billion people cheering her on back home, it is an incredible opportunity to advertise Darts to a wider female audience.
Momo teams with Zong Xiao Chen in a very winnable first-round encounter against Swiss debutants Alex Fehlmann and Andy Bless.
Upsets and Dark Horses
Elsewhere, Belgium face Ireland in, arguably, the tie of the first-round. In spite of a changed line-up, the Belgians remain perennial outside bets for the title, largely thanks to Dimitri van den Bergh’s recent exertions.
Out of the blue, ‘The Dreammaker’ stunned Michael van Gerwen and Gary Anderson last Sunday en route to the final of his debut World Series event- also held on German soil.
He splits up the Huybrechts duopoly after leapfrogging Ronny to a career-high of 36 in the Order of Merit.
Brother Kim will captain the side having enjoyed a decent outing at the Dutch Darts Masters earlier this month. He reached the semi-finals, only to be stopped in his tracks by young Irishman Steve Lennon.
The two will come face to face again tomorrow night- with Dimitri and Ireland’s William O’Connor fighting by their sides.
Ireland could well upset the apple cart in what should be a tight affair.
Scheduled to open the tournament, at 6pm (BST) this evening, are the Canadian’s John Part and Dawson Murschell when they take on Italy.
3-time World Champion Part enjoyed a renaissance at the UK Open in March. The Hall of Famer reached the quarter-finals of an individual major for the 1st time since 2012, having suffered from ongoing health issues in those intermittent years.
Considered one of the greatest thinkers in the history of the sport, ‘Darth Maple’ could prove to be the perfect mentor for the raw, but gifted, Murschell.
Then aged 21, ‘Awesome Dawson’ made waves last summer by defeating James Wade in a World Series event over in the United States.
Currently transitioning to life on the PDC Pro Tour- after coming through Q-School in January- he has already claimed the scalps of Stephen Bunting and Gerwyn Price in recent outings.
In a wide open top half of the draw, the 51 year-old Legend and exuberant upstart have the potential to form a dangerous alliance.
Every Session of the 2018 PDC World Cup of Darts will be covered live by Sky Sports. Subscribers to PDCTV can also follow the action in HD.
2018 Betway World Cup of Darts
Schedule of Play
Thursday May 31 (7pm local time, 6pm BST)
Italy v Canada
Russia v Spain
Switzerland v China
Denmark v Brazil
Wales v Thailand
Australia v Hong Kong
Scotland v United States of America
Austria v Japan
Friday June 1 (7pm local time, 6pm BST)
New Zealand v Singapore
Greece v Finland
Northern Ireland v Poland
Hungary v South Africa
Belgium v Republic of Ireland
England v Czech Republic
Sweden v Germany
Netherlands v Gibraltar
Saturday June 2
Afternoon Session (1.30pm local time, 12.30pm BST)
Wales/Thailand v Switzerland/China
Australia/Hong Kong v Russia/Spain
Austria/Japan v Italy/Canada
Scotland/USA v Denmark/Brazil
Evening Session (7pm local time, 6pm BST)
Belgium/Republic of Ireland v Greece/Finland
England/Czech Republic v New Zealand/Singapore
Northern Ireland/Poland v Sweden/Germany
Netherlands/Gibraltar v Hungary/South Africa
Sunday June 3
Afternoon Session (1pm local time, 12pm BST)
Evening Session (7pm local time, 6pm BST)
Best of nine legs Doubles
Second Round, Quarter-Finals & Semi-Finals
The Second Round, Quarter-Finals & Semi-Finals will be played as two best of seven leg 501 Singles matches. Both nations nominate the order in which their players play. In the event of both nations winning one Singles match apiece, a best of seven leg 501 Doubles match will be played to decide the tie.
The Final will be played as two best of seven leg 501 Singles matches. Both nations nominate the order in which their players play the first two matches. This is followed by a best of seven leg 501 Doubles match and then Reverse Singles matches. The first team to win three games is declared the winner.