The PDC World Championship is the ‘big one’. The World Matchplay is good too. But there’s nothing better than the World Cup of Darts.
Yes, I’m going there.
From the sleepy suburbs of Houghton-le-Spring in County Durham sprung a truly cosmopolitan tournament. The event has undergone a couple of facelifts since that inaugural event in 2010, and has also changed location. The World Cup of Darts has found its home in Hamburg, then Frankfurt, and then Hamburg again.
64 players will be heading to the Barclaycard Arena, but unlike in other tournaments, they won’t be out for personal glory. Instead, there’s a greater purpose. Each pair that shows up in Germany will be looking to capture the title for their nation.
The strict one-pair-per-nation policy means that for those with a vested interest in their nation, there’s only one horse to back.
It makes for some superb pairings, too. Rob Cross and Michael Smith is an exciting duo; Gary Anderson and Peter Wright make up a dangerous Scottish team. The Netherlands relied for years upon two of the game’s all-time greats in Michael van Gerwen and Raymond van Barneveld – now Jermaine Wattimena leads the charge for a new generation.
The fun of the tournament is in looking beyond the big names, to the lesser-known players who add to the intrigue. Diogo Portela and Alexandre Sattin brought the Samba magic to the World Cup of Darts in 2016. Max Hopp and Martin Schindler have risen up the rankings off the back of headline-grabbing World Cup performances. And who didn’t love Wenge Xie’s side-splitting cameo for China two years ago?
Singapore’s Paul and Harith Lim, in beating Scotland two years ago, continued a fine tradition of giant-killing started by Spanish heroes Antonio Alcinas and Carlos Rodriguez back in 2010. South Africa seeing off Scotland in a sudden death leg, Finland shocking the Netherlands, Hong Kong toppling Wales, Russia befuddling Australia and Japan edging out Austria are all fine examples of the form books being thrown out the window.
The unique format of the event also acts as a leveller, demanding that top players adapt in order to succeed. A short format, played between the pairs, makes anything possible. A number of top players have said they are uncomfortable with the doubles layout. And that’s perfect.
You get a heady mix of ridiculous averages – both the brilliant, like Ronny Huybrechts’ 115.62 against Greece in 2017, and the badly sub-par. But, like the UK Open and its hectic schedule, big averages are a necessary sacrifice for excellent entertainment.
Get ready for more fun in 2019, too. Magnus Caris will bow out of top level darts, hopefully after one last grand hurrah for Sweden. Lithuania join the party. England and Netherlands have new partnerships and are in the same half of the draw. You’ve got some decent teams like the Philippines and New Zealand who have the talent to cause a real surprise.
It’s true that the outcome of each World Cup has been pretty much a forgone conclusion. Only Australia, who somehow didn’t win in 2012, seriously threatened to scupper the dominance of England and the Netherlands. But hegemony in sport isn’t new. Football’s top leagues were won by the same teams that won them the year before. Saracens and Exeter played out the Premiership Rugby final for the third time in four years. The Cricket World Cup has actively excluded smaller participants to protect the status quo. That’s the nature of sport.
It doesn’t mean that there can’t be surprises. The semi-finals have never featured all of the top four seeds. There are plenty backing ‘the big four’ (the Netherlands, England, Scotland and Wales) to win, but they won’t all go the distance.
And who knows where the World Cup will go next. An expansion to include new teams, perhaps, or a format like football’s equivalent. The tournament could even spread its wings and leave Germany, heading around the world.
Maybe the World Cup of Darts isn’t the biggest of tournaments. But it’s a special part of the PDC calendar, and it’ll be well worth a watch when it starts on Thursday night.
Author: Ed McCosh