The 2015 European Championship gets underway in Hasselt tomorrow, with World Number 1 Michael van Gerwen looking to defend his title. Van Gerwen thrashed Terry Jenkins 11-4 in last year’s final and will be hoping for a repeat success.
However, there are a number of form-horses who will be confident of claiming the crown. Here, I run the rule over the potential dark horses, as well as the players under pressure to produce a good showing in Belgium.
After enjoying a fantastic first-year in the PDC last year, The Bullet’s form in 2015 has been slightly underwhelming. He narrowly avoided relegation from the Premier League, but could only muster an 8th place finish, whilst he was dumped out in Round One in both the World Matchplay and the World Grand Prix.
Incidentally, Bunting was beaten in the first-round of the Matchplay by his opponent in Hasselt, Ian White. Bunting averaged 100+, but White was in superb form and earned a 10-6 victory. Nevertheless, since then, Bunting has reverted back to his old darts and looks far more comfortable.
He reached the quarter-finals of the European Darts Grand Prix in Sindelfingen, averaging over 100 in defeat to Peter Wright, whilst he enjoyed a very profitable weekend in Coventry just one week ago. Bunting reached the semi-finals on Saturday, before being beaten by eventual winner Gary Anderson on Sunday, at the quarter-final stage.
Still, in his last 16 clash against in-form Raymond van Barneveld on Sunday, Bunting claimed his first ever victory over the Dutchman at the seventh attempt, hitting 100% on the doubles en route to a 6-2 victory.
Given his considerable scoring power, if Bunting can produce such consistency on the doubles, I fancy him to gain revenge on White.
Mensur Suljovic’s incredible 2015 just keeps getting better. He reached his first major TV semi-final at the World Grand-Prix last month and along with Michael van Gerwen, Suljovic is the only man to have reached the quarter-final of every ranking TV major this year.
Since his exploits in Dublin, the Austrian reached the semi-finals of the European Darts Grand Prix, beating van Gerwen 6-4 in the last 32 with a 109 average, whilst he also enjoyed a run to the semi-finals of last Saturday’s Players Championship event in Coventry.
Suljovic faces Dave Chisnall in round one, which should be an intriguing tie. ‘The Gentle’ is very methodical in his approach and this could certainly disrupt Chizzy’s rhythm.
Dave is unquestionably the more prolific scorer, nevertheless, Suljovic is lethal on the doubles, particularly his favourite D14. Over the short format, anything is possible, but who would back against Suljovic claiming another major scalp tomorrow?
Kim is Belgium’s sole representative in Hasselt, after his brother Ronny narrowly missed out on qualification. Huybrechts has been in terrific form over recent months, which culminated in him winning the European Darts Grand Prix a fortnight ago, as he came from 5-2 to beat Peter Wright in an epic final.
Huybrechts has been extremely consistent on the Pro Tour; he is a regular feature in the latter stages of floor tournaments, but his indifferent TV form reflects his current World Ranking of 15th.
To really establish himself as a genuine contender for all major tournaments, he must deliver more consistently on the big-stage. What better place to start than in his home country?
He faces veteran Mervyn King in the opening round, which won’t be an easy task. Mervyn has been in good form recently, reaching the European Darts Grand-Prix quarter-finals and securing qualification for the Grand Slam of Darts.
King is a tenacious competitor and if Huybrechts is even slightly below-par, Mervyn will capitalise on this. However, on current form, I fancy the Belgian to be too strong for King and if he were to progress, this could be the catalyst he requires to enjoy a significant run in a TV event.
Benito van de Pas
Benito van de Pas is priced at 100/1 to win this tournament, but his current form is making a complete mockery of those odds. The 22-year-old has enjoyed a tremendous 2015, reaching a European Tour final and several Pro Tour semi-finals.
Additionally, he also enjoyed a run to the final of last week’s Players Championship event in Coventry, where he was edged out 6-5 by Peter Wright. These performances have seen him climb to a career-high of 28th in the World.
Van de Pas faces 2013 Champion Adrian Lewis in the opening round, but the Dutch star won’t be phased by the prospect. The first round is the best of 11 legs, just like a Pro Tour event, so van de Pas will be quietly confident of causing an upset against Jackpot.
If he were to progress, he would face either Justin Pipe or Dirk van Duijvenbode in the last 16. With all due respect to both men, this is a relatively kind draw in comparison to some of the other potential last 16 matches; this could be a fantastic opportunity for Benito to breakthrough in a TV major.
Players Under Pressure
Adrian has had an up and down year. He was in magnificent form earlier in the year on the Pro Tour, whilst he enjoyed tremendous success down under in the World Series events. He beat Raymond van Barneveld 11-10 to win the Auckland Darts Masters, and also reached the final in Sydney, where he was beaten by Phil Taylor.
However, Adrian finished in 6th place in the Premier League earlier this year and his form in TV ranking majors has been disappointing. He has failed to reach the quarter-final stage of any of the three ranking majors so far this year, so he’s under pressure to perform in Hasselt.
Adrian is currently ranked 5th in the World and he could potentially slip to World Number 7 after this event, which would be his lowest PDC ranking for over 5 years.
Simon Whitlock has not reached a major quarter-final since the 2014 World Matchplay. The Australian almost went 12 months without a televised victory, which has seen him fall outside the World’s Top 10.
His Pro Tour form has been very patchy; he’s reached a couple of Players Championship semi-finals in recent months, but he’s certainly lacking the consistency that made him one of the toughest competitors in World Darts.
Whitlock reached the final of this competition two years ago and faces the prospect of exiting the top 16 unless he enjoys a fine run in Hasselt.
In addition, Whitlock has not secured qualification for the Grand Slam of Darts; only a run to the final will seal him a spot at Wolverhampton. Given that the tournament will be ranked from this year, failure to qualify will have further repercussions for the Australian’s ranking position.
He faces Swedish veteran Magnus Caris in the opening round here, although Gary Anderson is his likely second round opponent. The Wizard desperately needs to rediscover his magic in Belgium.
Just to make it abundantly clear, I don’t think there’s major pressure on Phil Taylor, but he’ll be putting considerable expectation on himself, as he aims to win his first European Championship title since 2011.
Despite his World Series domination, Taylor has not appeared in a major TV final since last year’s World Championships and he’ll be desperate to rectify that statistic this weekend.
Taylor was knocked out in the first-round of the World Grand Prix by Vincent van der Voort last month, but the 55-year-old Stokie has an instant opportunity to gain redemption, as he faces the Dutchman again in Hasselt.
Taylor will be determined to exact retribution against the Dutch Destroyer, and I believe he will. Nevertheless, we all know how capable van der Voort is, as he proved in Dublin.
The first-round format of the best of 11 legs is essentially a sprint to the finish. The 16-Time World Champion is definitely most susceptible over a shorter format; but two successive first-round exits in majors for Taylor is surely unthinkable?
Do you agree? Please let me know your thoughts, by commenting underneath the article!
First Round Draw & Tournament Bracket
Michael van Gerwen (1) v Jeffrey de Zwaan
Cristo Reyes v Max Hopp
Ian White (8) v Stephen Bunting
Mensur Suljovic v Dave Chisnall
Robert Thornton (5) v John Henderson
Christian Kist v Rowby-John Rodriguez
Peter Wright (4) v Alan Norris
Kim Huybrechts v Mervyn King
Gary Anderson (2) v Brendan Dolan
Simon Whitlock v Magnus Caris
James Wade (7) v Terry Jenkins
Jelle Klaasen v Raymond van Barneveld
Adrian Lewis (6) v Benito van de Pas
Justin Pipe v Dirk van Duijvenbode
Phil Taylor (3) v Vincent van der Voort
Michael Smith v Gerwyn Price