The city of Wuxi in China will host the 2019 Snooker World Cup next week. Here’s a flashback to previous World Cup events…
Back in 1979, the Snooker World Cup took place for the first time in Birmingham. There were teams from England, Wales, Northern Ireland, Canada and Australia as well as a Rest of the World team. The formidable Welsh trio of Ray Reardon, Terry Griffiths and Doug Mountjoy came out on top, thrashing England’s Fred Davis, John Spencer and Graham Miles 14-3 in the final.
The tournament was a regular occurrence throughout the 1980s, staged in Reading and then Bournemouth. Wales retained the title in 1980 then England, with Steve Davis at the helm, took four of the next eight titles.
Ireland won it three times in a row from 1985. They also reached the final in 1990, despite a team dispute which escalated somewhat when Alex Higgins told Dennis Taylor: “If you ever come back to Northern Ireland I’ll have you shot.”
Canada lifted the trophy in 1982 and 1990. After that, the event was not held for six years, then returned in 1996 in Bangkok, Thailand, with 20 teams. Scotland’s holy trinity of Stephen Hendry, John Higgins and Alan McManus were huge favourites, and gave their country World Cup success for the first time by beating the Republic of Ireland in the final.
The World Cup was shelved as snooker went through difficult commercial times, then returned in 2011 soon after Barry Hearn’s takeover revitalised the sport. Bangkok was again the location, with 20 two-man teams. After coming through the group phase, Chinese duo Ding Junhui and Liang Wenbo saw off both the Republic of Ireland and Wales 4-1, before beating Northern Irish pair Mark Allen and Gerard Greene 4-2 in the final.
Wuxi hosted the tournament for the first time in 2015. By this time, snooker’s global growth had advanced to the extent that the World Cup included 24 teams. Players from as far afield as UAE, Brazil, Qatar, Malaysia, Pakistan, Iran, India and Australia gathered in the Orient to contest the crown. As host nation, China were allowed to enter two teams, and it was their ‘B’ side who caused a huge upset by going all the way.
Yan Bingtao and Zhou Yuelong may be familiar names to snooker fans now, but at the time they were barely known, aged just 15 and 17. After winning all five group games, the fearless teenagers saw off Australia 4-2 and Wales 4-3 to reach the final, where they trounced Scotland’s John Higgins and Stephen Maguire 4-1.
“It’s unbelievable – fantastic,” said Zhou. “Our dreams were to become champions since we first picked up a cue – and now they have come true.” Yan added: “I’m surprised, excited and nervous. That’s all I can say.” While Maguire declared: “I think we have seen two future World Champions.”
The World Cup returned to Wuxi in 2017 and once again home advantage counted, as China took first prize for the third consecutive time. This time it was the A Team whose plan came together, as Ding and Liang regained the crown.
After negotiating the group stage they saw off Wales and Thailand to reach the final. They fell 3-1 behind against England’s Judd Trump and Barry Hawkins, but hit back to win 4-3, with Ding beating Trump in the decisive rubber thanks to a break of 59.
Ding, who clearly loves playing in the Jiangsu Province where he was born, said: “I’m so glad to have won this in front of my home crowd. Anywhere in China the fans give me massive courage. I used to worry about performing here but I’m enjoying my people’s passion now, and they give me the motivation to play every shot well.”
And if China’s rivals want to take the trophy home, they will have to get used to playing on Wuxi soil as the World Cup will be staged there every two years for the next ten years.
The 2019 World Cup will run from June 24 to 30. There will be 24 two-man teams from 23 nations (with host nation China again allowed to enter two teams). Total prize money will be $800,000. The event is a fantastic celebration of snooker’s international appeal and strength in depth of players across the planet.
Click here for the draw and here for details of Eurosport’s television coverage.