SCOTLAND AIMING TO RETAIN TITLE AS CAZOO WORLD CUP OF DARTS RETURNS TO FRANKFURT
The 2022 Cazoo World Cup of Darts begins in Germany on Thursday as the annual 32-nation festival of darts returns to Frankfurt's Eissporthalle.
This year's World Cup of Darts marks the 12th edition of the popular pairs event, which will see 32 countries represented by two-player teams from June 16-19.
Scotland's Peter Wright and John Henderson are bidding to defend their crown across the four-day event at the Eissporthalle, with Wright eyeing a third World Cup triumph in four years.
The eighth seeds defeated Austria to secure a second World Cup success 12 months ago, and they will open their campaign against Hong Kong duo Lok Yin Lee & Ho Tung Ching on Friday night.
World Champion Wright retains last year's successful pairing with Henderson, who is aiming to emulate the greatest day of his career in Frankfurt this weekend after being given the blessing of Gary Anderson to remain in the Scotland team.
"I'm buzzing," said Henderson. "I wasn't expecting it. Fair play to Gary for giving me the opportunity to go and retain it.
"The reception I got in Huntly [on my return] last year was phenomenal, and it gives you the taste for more, so hopefully I can enjoy it and play well. I'm really looking forward to it.
"Peter was brilliant last year. He was the captain of the team and he really did help me. I think we'll go in with the same mentality this year, and I believe we will do well."
The new pairing of Michael Smith and James Wade lead the charge for top seeds England, who are eyeing a fifth World Cup crown, but a first since 2016.
Phil Taylor and Adrian Lewis led England to their previous four victories, but having scooped five titles within the last month, Smith is in confident mood ahead of their clash against Czech duo Adam Gawlas and Karel Sedlacek on Friday.
"If I can score and Wadey can hit his doubles, we'll take some stopping, but I'm hitting my doubles and Wadey is scoring now as well," said the US Darts Masters champion.
"It looks like it's becoming a match made in heaven. He is a ten-time TV winner so he's got a good head on his shoulders.
"I am finally getting there and he can keep me going hopefully, so we can push on and win that title."
Gerwyn Price and Jonny Clayton will represent Wales for a fifth consecutive year, and the 2020 champions are highly-fancied to double their tally this weekend.
The second seeds headline Thursday's opening night of first round action against the Philippines, and the World Cup harbours special memories for Clayton, who has enjoyed a meteoric rise since their 2020 triumph
"That gave me so much confidence, it gave me belief that I can actually perform on the biggest stage," said Clayton, a winner of four televised titles in 2021.
"We were the first Welsh players to win the World Cup and I will always remember that.
"The Welsh are very proud people, and to win something to bring back to Wales, it's an amazing feeling. It would be a dream to do it again."
Four-time winners Netherlands boast a new-look pairing in the absence of Michael van Gerwen, with UK Open champion Danny Noppert teaming up alongside Dirk van Duijvenbode ahead of their first round clash against Brazil on Thursday.
Dimitri Van den Bergh and Kim Huybrechts renew their partnership for 2013 runners-up Belgium, and the fourth seeds will face 2019 semi-finalists Japan in a tricky opener.
"We have so many singles events, but playing for your country, that is only once a year, so you don't have many opportunities for that," admitted Van den Bergh, last week's Nordic Darts Masters winner. "It 100 per cent means more to us.
"Obviously when you are playing as a Belgian professional, you are representing your country, but playing in the actual national shirt, you want to make the most of it.
"You see other teams going deep, you see other teams winning it. We want to be a part of that elite group and lift that title up in the air."
Australian number one Damon Heta and World Cup ever-present Simon Whitlock take on Lithuania, led by Darius Labanauskas, while Northern Irish duo Daryl Gurney and Brendan Dolan - another who has played in all 11 previous World Cups - continue their bid for maiden glory.
Gabriel Clemens and Martin Schindler will fly the flag for host nation Germany in another new-look pairing, and the 2020 semi-finalists play Spain in Thursday's penultimate first round tie.
Last year's runners-up Mensur Suljovic and Rowby-John Rodriguez join forces again for Austria, while Denmark and Singapore kick off this year's showpiece, as veteran star Paul Lim makes his big stage return alongside Harith Lim.
Republic of Ireland's William O'Connor and Steve Lennon - runners-up in 2019 - lock horns against Canada's Jeff Smith and Matt Campbell in a compelling first round clash.
Elsewhere, 18-year-old Sebastian Bialecki, a UK Open quarter-finalist in March, will make his World Cup debut alongside Krzysztof Ratajski, as Poland play American debutants Danny Baggish and Jules van Dongen in another intriguing tie.
There are also returns for New Zealand and Switzerland, who collide on Thursday night, while Latvia, captained by ProTour finalist Madars Razma, come back into the fold to face Hungary.
The first round will take place across Thursday and Friday evening, with Saturday's double session featuring the second round.
The quarter-finals then take place on Sunday afternoon, ahead of the semi-finals and final in the evening session.