THE 2019 BetVictor World Cup of Darts begins on Thursday, with a new-look Netherlands bidding to retain their title at the Barclaycard Arena in Hamburg.
The unique 32-nation Pairs tournament will be held from June 6-9 live on Sky Sports, through the PDC's international broadcast partners, and on PDCTV-HD for International Subscribers.
The 350,000 pound event will see each country represented by two players in a a combination of Doubles and Singles matches in a battle for the title, which was won by the Netherlands for a fourth time last June.
Michael van Gerwen and Raymond van Barneveld's triumph in Frankfurt last year saw the Netherlands equal England's record of four World Cup crowns in the eight stagings of the competition.
This year's event will see Van Barneveld absent in the Dutch line-up for the first time, with World Champion Van Gerwen teaming up with world number 23 Jermaine Wattimena, the second-highest Dutch ranked player on the PDC Order of Merit.
The fourth seeds will face Spanish duo Cristo Reyes and Toni Alcinas in their first round assignment, with Van Gerwen feeling confident of retaining the title.
"With all respect to Raymond, I think Jermaine deserves his place," said Van Gerwen, who has won the tournament three times alongside Van Barneveld.
"I love to hold records and this would be a special one.
"It would be something special for the Netherlands to overtake England and I am really determined to do that.
"Also for myself it would take me level on titles with three great World Cup players and if I do that then I have the chance next year to break that record too."
The first round will take place across Thursday and Friday, with the second round split across two sessions on Saturday June 2, with the quarter-finals on Sunday afternoon and the semi-finals and final on Sunday evening.
Round one will see English top seeds Rob Cross and Michael Smith pair up for the first time against highly-rated Filipino duo Lourence Ilagan and Noel Malicdem
For Cross, this will be the former World Champion's second taste of World Cup action having reached the quarter-finals alongside Dave Chisnall in 2018, while Smith is relishing the prospect of pulling on an England shirt for the first time.
"I can't wait to represent my country, it will be one of the proudest moments of my career," said Smith.
"Even if I were to fall down the rankings in later years and this turns out to be the only chance I get to play for England, I will always look back on it with pride.
"Everyone wants to represent their country in any sport, and last year I was doing everything I could to get into the team, it was one of my biggest aims.
"I think we've got a good chance of doing well, Rob had a great Premier League season, whereas I didn't play badly but my doubles let me down."
Number two seeds Scotland will once again be represented by Gary Anderson and Peter Wright, who will be looking to go one better than their runner-up placings in 2015 and 2018.
They will begin their bid for a first title against Denmark, while Welsh third seeds Gerwyn Price and Jonny Clayton get their campaign underway against Paul Lim and Harith Lim's Singapore.
Simon Whitlock and Kyle Anderson will fly the Australian flag for Australia for a fourth consecutive year, and 2012 runner-up Whitlock admits it would be one of the biggest disappointments of his career if he were never to win the title for his country.
"Every tournament is important but this one is really special to me," said Whitlock has reached the semi-finals on three other occasions.
"The final defeat in 2012 really hurt me but I've still got the chance to win it. Paul (Nicholson) and I were a strong team and the title was there for us to win but we missed our chance.
"That fuelled my hunger to win the event. It would be huge for Australian darts. I have built up a good rapport with Kyle and I think we are ready as a team to go and play our best darts in what I think is a very open tournament that we have every chance of winning."
2016 semi-finalists Northern Ireland will once again be represented by world number four Daryl Gurney and World Cup ever-present Brendan Dolan, who will face South Africa in their opening game.
Kim Huybrechts and Dimitri Van den Bergh will compete for Belgium for a second successive year, having made it to the semi-finals in 2018, and they will meet Hong Kong in round one.
Austrian duo Mensur Suljovic and Zoran Lerchbacher will be hoping to erase the memory of their first round exit last year when they take on Russia.
Japanese pair Seigo Asada and Haruki Muramatsu, who were quarter-finalists in 2018, will open this year's event against Gibraltar, who are represented by ever-present Dyson Parody and debutant Antony Lopez.
China, who meet the USA in Friday's opening tie, suffered a late team change when Yuanjun Liu stepped in to make his third World Cup appearance following the withdrawal of Qingyu Zhan due to a passport issue.