Race to the World Cup: First Look
This week it was announced that snooker’s World Cup will be staged in Wuxi, China this summer and that 24 two man teams will battle it out to claim the title last won by China back in 2011.
Although all of the eligible nations are yet to be confirmed, we do know that players will be selected by ranking after next month’s Betfred World Championship and so we already have a good idea as to who is likely to be involved.
We can best gauge this by looking at the latest provisional end of season ranking list, that is a list that has already deducted all prize money won prior to the start of the 2013/14 seaon and so my calculations below are based upon this list, rather than the current official ranking list.
As host nation and defending champions, China will be allowed to enter two teams at the World Cup this year.
Clearly, Ding Junhui is certain to be one of the two players to represent China’s ‘A’ team thanks to being currently ranked comfortably inside the top four, but the identity of his teammate is tough to call, with Xiao Guodong and Liang Wenbo separated by less than £5,000 as it currently stands on the end of season list.
Of the two, Liang has qualified for the China Open and therefore has the opportunity to gain further ground in Beijing, but in all probability the battle is likely to come down to the season-ending Betfred World Championship, with up to £300,000 up for grabs for the winner in Sheffield.
Whoever finishes as China’s number three after the World Championship, likely to be either Xiao Guodong or Liang Wenbo as described above will surely have the consolation of leading China’s ‘B’ team in Wuxi.
As things stand, that player could be joined by world number 52 Yu Delu, with the closest chasers being Li Hang (currently £4,625 behind) and Cao Yupeng (£7,372), looking to overtake him by the conclusion of the Betfred World Championship.
On paper, the battle for places in the English team appears to be relatively straight-forward, with Mark Selby and Ronnie O’Sullivan set to be the two highest placed English players at the end of the season.
That said, a Crucible victory for somebody such as Shaun Murphy, Judd Trump, Ricky Walden, Barry Hawkins or Stuart Bingham could still bring them into contention, while if either Selby or O’Sullivan were not to enter the event, there will be a close fight between those players for the second automatic spot.
Indeed, with Murphy, Trump Walden and Hawkins barely separated by £8,000, it is a battle likely to be open until the closing stages of the Betfred World Championship at the Crucible.
With Stephen Hendry, John Higgins and Alan McManus part of a three man team back in the 1990’s, Scotland were memorably dubbed the ‘dream team’ and still now they look to have a formidable pair with Higgins and Stephen Maguire in line to represent them in 2015.
While Higgins looks to be safe, Maguire could yet be overtaken by Graeme Dott, although some £40,000 behind, it would have to be a strong end to the season for the 2006 world champion.
While Mark Williams is no stranger to World Cup action having represented his country in 2011, he is currently set to be joined by recent Indian Open champion Michael White, who currently sits at a career-high ranking of 17th.
Just under £20,000 behind him though stands Ryan Day, who with three big money events to go before the cut-off, remains well in contention to finish the season in qualifying position for the tournament.
As the only player from Northern Ireland ranked up inside the world’s top 40, Mark Allen is a certainty to lead out the Northern Ireland team in Wuxi this summer.
At present, it looks as though he will be joined by Gerard Greene, who of course finished as runner-up last season at the Players Championship Grand Finals in Preston, unless Joe Swail can bridge a gap of over £36,000 with three events to play.
Back in 1996, Ken Doherty and Fergal O’Brien led Ireland to the final of snooker’s World Cup and almost 20 years on, it could yet be those two players who will again represent their country at the tournament in China.
Although O’Brien looks safe however, looking to the end of the season it is in fact David Morris who currently occupies the second qualifying spot, just £678 ahead of Doherty.
Clearly, with both players having qualified for China and due to try to make it to the venue stages of the Betfred World Championship, this is a battle that will go all the way to the wire in Sheffield.
Following Vinnie Calabrese’s resignation from the main tour earlier this year, there are now just two Australian players on the main tour, world number two Neil Robertson and Steve Mifsud, who has competed in just one professional event this season.
If Mifsud were not to enter, it would be interesting to see who would be selected to take up the second spot and whether there could be a reprieve for Calabrese.
Snooker’s only professional to represent Hong Kong, Marco Fu is a certainty to appear at the World Cup, but it remains to be seen who will be his teammate, with Fung Kwok Wai having partnered him in 2011.
One of the best represented nations on the main tour these days, Thailand look set to be represented by Dechawat Poomjaeng and Thepchaiya Un-Nooh at this year’s World Cup.
The other player in realistic contention is Noppon Saengkham, who would have to bridge a gap of around £27,000 to overhaul Un-Nooh and claim the second spot.
As with Hong Kong, Belgium currently has just one main tour professional, with BetVictor Welsh Open semi-finalist Luca Brecel set to lead his national team at the tournament and former team-mate Bjorn Haneveer now having retired from the sport.
Presumably Luca’s teammate will be selected from Belgium’s amateur ranks and it remains to be seen who this might be.
Following the resignation of Pankaj Advani from the main tour earlier this season, Aditya Mehta is now India’s sole representative on snooker’s main tour and so we will have to wait to see who will partner him in China.
Given his pedigree and former professional status, I would be surprised if this were not to be Advani, but time will tell.
Probably the most clear cut selection of all of the nations, Maltese duo Tony Drago and Alex Borg will presumably represent the country as Malta’s only two professional players.
Brazil look set to be led by their sole professional representative Igor Figueiredo and perhaps he might be joined by Itaro Santos, who won the recent Pan American Championship in January and will be invited to join the main tour for next season.
Another country with just one professional, Norway will be led by Kurt Maflin and it remains to be seen who will partner him at the tournament.
Could we even see his wife and former Norway ladies champion Anita Maflin partner him in what would surely be a first for professional snooker?
Following the long-awaited approval of his visa application last month, Hossein Vafaei Ayouri promises to be a player who you will hear a lot more of over the coming months and surely he will be in line to represent his country at this year’s World Cup.
Again though, it is difficult to know who might partner him at the tournament at this time.
The final nation to be confirmed so far for this year’s World Cup is Malaysia, who will presumably be led by their sole professional player Thor Chuan Leong and one other teammate to be confirmed.
Three are three events still to be played before the final teams are set, namely the Players Championship Grand Finals, the China Open and of course the Betfred World Championship at the Crucible Theatre.