Snooker: World Cup outright preview and best bets

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SNOOKER specialist George Weyham (@GWSnookerTips) previews the 2019 Snooker World Cup, picking out his favourite fancies.

Snooker World Cup | 24th-30th June 2019 | Eurosport

With Riga and International Championship Qualifying out the way, and the majority of the main tour players now on a break until the end of July, 24 national teams (29 are main tour players) head to the south of China to Wuxi City for the 16th Snooker World Cup.

China, who are represented by two sides (A&B), have won the past three renewals, all of which were under the format of two players per-country (or four in China’s case), and the new pairing of Ding Junhui and Yan Bingtao are the clear joint-third favourites with Wales.

Both Ding and Yan had poor seasons last term. They entered 24 ranking events between them, and only Ding made a quarter-final, once. They should bypass the group stages (the top two progress) without much fuss, but the tournament starts in essence in the last eight where most of the cream will still be in the event.

The one frame format is where Ding significantly struggled in last season winning just 46% of his first frames. Yan was only a tad better at 49%. Both have won this event previously (Ding in 2011 and 2017, Yan in 2015).

Even at 5/1 (William Hill), they are worth taking on.

I prefer at the prices, the China ‘B’ team of Zhou Yuelong and Liang Wenbo. Both are previous winners of this (Liang with Ding and Zhou with Yan). When Liang has got his mind on it, he’s a fabulous player who has massively underachieved in the game. He’s currently ranked at lowly 41. In ability, he should be top 10 – he’s that good.

Zhou for me, is the most complete of the Chinese contingent. A top quality player who has the all round game to go right to the very top. A dangerous pairing indeed. One could flourish and one (likely Liang) might not. If both do perform, they will be a tough nut to crack at 10/1 Bet365), double the price of Ding and Yan.

Favourites with most, England (7/2 BetVictor), are represented by Kyren Wilson and Jack Lisowski – two contrasting styles. Wilson is a measured, tough individual who takes little risks – a percentage player if ever there was one. Lisowski has calmed down the last few seasons with a better approach to the game (hence he’s now cemented his place in the top 16) but can be kamikaze at times and still has the exuberance of youth inside of him.

The English pair could work well together, or disastrously. They were brought up through the junior system together but I’m not sure they see eye to eye which isn’t a good sign, be it they are two top class players. They have to come through the Group of Death with the two Irish sides, and Iran so it won’t be a cakewalk.

Scotland can shine

The country I prefer at the top of market is Scotland at a generous 9/2 with William Hill. The pairing of John Higgins and Stephen Maguire lost in the final of this event in 2015 and they return together to try and go one better (Higgins lost in group stage with Anthony McGill in 2017).

They have a more or less dolly of a group (1/6 to win Group C) to come through so look good things on that account alone. They shouldn’t have to break sweat. It’s Higgins’ first event back of the season as he tries to re-group after losing his last match last season – the World final to Judd Trump.

Maguire and Higgins are big chums on tour. Maguire has previously said he has very few friends on the circuit but Higgins is one of the few exceptions.

Maguire was brought up the hard way getting regular beatings off Stephen Hendry in his pomp in Glasgow and a bit like Liang Wenbo, is a bit of an enigma in snooker. His attitude has let him down so often but ability wise, it can’t ever be questioned, he’s absolute mustard when on song. He would of won a World title by now with a Selby-like temperament. Maguire is as good a break builder there is as well.

Having Higgins as a partner, in a sense, should help Maguire play better and ultimately relax. He’s the perfect partner to have in some ways – pure class, great motivator/competitor and an excellent team player. Higgins, who won this event as a three man team in 1996, had a win ratio of 65% in first frames last season which was outstanding considering he didn’t go deep in many events. Maguire’s 50% win rate is reasonably decent too.

With them being a shoe-in for the last eight, 9/2 looks too good to turn down on the Scots. I would make them firm favourites, personally. It’s not said in many sports but Scotland for Snooker World Cup number two is a big possibility.

Talented Thailand can make their mark

I was in a dilemma when the prices came out whether to go China B or Thailand. I’ve stuck my neck out and just prefer the Thai pair of Noppon Saengkham and Thepchaiya Un-Nooh.

I am a huge fan of both of these guys who are close friends and practise partners at Q House Snooker Academy in Darlington, which includes top Chinese trio – Yuan Sijun, Xiao Guodong and current World amateur champion, Chang Bingyu.

I know someone close to the project there, and they think the cream of the crop in Darlington is 26-year-old Saengkham. His potential is frightening. In the last 18 months, he’s improved his consistency and safety game massively. Hence, he nearly made a ranking event final last August at the World Open losing in the semi-final 6-5. He performs well in Asia. Two of his best tournaments as a pro were in China. He also won the World Under 21 title in Iran.

Similar sentiments for his compatriot, Un-Nooh, (eight years older than Saengkham) who is as naturally talented as any player on the circuit – a devastating player. ‘The quickest player in the world’ blew everyone away at the Shoot-Out to win his first ranking event. He pushed Judd Trump closer than anyone at the Crucible (losing 10-9 in round one).

Afterwards, Trump was very complimentary about Thepchaiya, “He's seriously one of the best players on tour, he's still probably improving and it's a scary style of play to play against. He goes for everything and puts you under a lot of pressure”.

Saengkham and Un-Nooh both have wonderful temperaments. Un-Nooh might go for his shots but his safety game is as underrated as Saengkham’s. I don’t think there’s a more dangerous pairing in this event than these two. They have serious ammunition. I think they both thrive under pressure too.

Two years ago they lost in the semi-final to eventual winners China A. They are better players now for certain. If they click, they have got a great chance of putting the record straight. I thought before the prices came that anything double figures is big value. They are 10/1 with Ladbrokes but you can get a boost to 11/1 with the same firm.

Iran dangerous outsiders

The last outright selection is a stab in the dark on 40/1 (SkyBet) shots, Iran. As mentioned earlier, they are in a tough group with England, Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland where only the top two qualify for the quarter-finals. However, they should head there with plenty of optimism, especially given one of the Iranian’s recent form.

Soheil Vahedi, a former World amateur champion (2016 in Qatar), dropped off the tour last season but got back on last month during Q School where he won six matches in a very hard section. He played very well in recent qualifying scoring excellently in a 4-0 win versus Austria’s Andreas Ploner then got beaten in a decider in the next event to Peter Ebdon. So he comes here in great heart.

His fellow countryman, Hossein Vafaei is a player I rate very highly – a classy operator with a Rolls Royce cue action. Another former World amateur champion (in India 2011), he has been flying his country’s flag very high on tour since 2015. He’s made two ranking semi-finals in recent years, one here in China.

Snooker is very popular in Iran with over 1400 snooker clubs. On a lesser scale to China obviously but it’s a sport on the up in Western Asia. The former roommates are big names back at home. They entered the 2017 version and made their country proud making the quarter-final before they were upended by Thailand 4-1.

They are definitely potential surprise packages again and also better players two years on. The camaraderie between the pair is very infectious, they bounce off one another well. They will go there with plenty of belief.

Not making up the numbers – the two V’s are value at 40/1 for victory.

Alternative options

Ladbrokes have priced up a market without China A and Thailand in Group A. I like the look of the outsiders Austria, at 4/1, who debuted in 2015 finishing bottom.

However, even though Andreas Ploner still remains, they have had an emergence of youth via 17-year-old Florian Nuessle who made the World amateur semi-final at 15 years-old and lost in the 2018 European U18 Final. He’s also a two-time Austrian amateur champion beating the more experienced Ploner in both finals.

At Q School recently, Nuessle hit two centuries and a 90. He’s a good prospect for the future. Ploner, a three-time national champion himself, won eight matches at Q School and is far from a mug. He beat Luke Simmonds 4-0 in one event, a player rated highly by none other than Ronnie O’Sullivan.

The group won’t take a lot of winning without the big two. Ploner and Nuessle come here match fit and will enjoy the underdog status. 4/1 looks good value on them upsetting the apple cart.

I also think 9/4 on Poland (pro pairing of Adam Stefanow and Kacper Filipiak) is worth a go too in the same market. They each won a match at recent qualifying.

Stefanow won 37% of his first frames last season which isn’t bad considering he only won two matches overall. I watched him live last season beat Shaun Murphy, he’s a tidy player.

His team mate Filipiak gained his tour status winning the European amateur title beating tough new pro, David Lilley 6-5 in the final. Beating him and ‘wonder kid’ Zhao Xintong to book his place to Riga next month proves he’s a much more mature player now to when he turned pro in 2011 at 15 years-old. For me, they should be favourites in this market.

At the other end of the group spectrum, I think Norway at 10/1 (Ladbrokes) to finish bottom in Group A is too big to ignore. Two years ago with the same pairing, they lost all their matches and finished bottom below snooker lightweights Finland, Brazil and Malaysia. This looks a lot harder on paper with Poland, Germany and Austria.

The Norway pairing of Kurt Maflin and Christopher Watts looks shaky. Ok, Maflin is a quality professional but runs hot or cold. There’s no middle ground. He will have to be in top mode because his teammate, Watts, isn’t much cop. Ignore the fact he’s a 10 times Norwegian champion, even against top amateurs, he will struggle.

There’s no guarantees with Maflin and he and Watts could easily throw the towel in early if they get thumpings from China A and Thailand in match one and two, as they did so two years ago. The Germans have a weak pairing and look the chief threat to Norway. Except they are 11/8. Norway have just as good a chance of scooping the wooden spoon so 10/1 is mega value with Ladbrokes).

Best Bets

Snooker World Cup – Scotland to win outright (9/2 William Hill)

Snooker World Cup – Thailand to win outright (10/1 Ladbrokes)

Snooker World Cup – Iran to win outright (40/1 SkyBet each way)

Snooker World Cup – Austria without China A and Thailand in Group A (4/1 Ladbrokes)

Snooker World Cup – Poland without China A and Thailand in Group A (9/4 Ladbrokes)

Snooker World Cup – Norway to finish bottom of Group A (10/1 Ladbrokes)

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