Following my look at the first group at next week’s World Cup yesterday, today I turn to Group B as another six teams battle it out for two quarter-final spots.
Hong Kong (4)
Top seeds in the group by virtue of Marco Fu’s position in the world rankings, Hong Kong will be hoping for another good tournament at the World Cup after their semi-final run back in 2011.
Marco will though have a different partner this time around, as he will be joined by amateur Au Chi Wai who qualified as the highest placed player from the country on last season’s Asian Order of Merit.
The two do have experience playing together, having earned the silver medal as teammates back at the 2002 Asian Games, while Au Chi Wai also made it to the semi-finals of the individual event at the 2009 Asian Championship, losing to eventual champion James Wattana.
More recently, he defeated current professional Gary Wilson at the Xuzhou Open in January, before losing to Sean O’Sullivan.
Perhaps the favourites to progress from Group B, notwithstanding their lower seeding are Scotland, who will be represented by experienced duo John Higgins and Stephen Maguire in Wuxi.
Both need little introduction, four-time world champion Higgins having returned to the winner’s circle back in February at the BetVictor Welsh Open, while Maguire claimed victories last season at the Six Red World Championship and Kreativ Dental Lisbon Open events.
Back in 2011, the pair made it through their group with four wins from four, but lost out at the quarter-final stage to Northern Ireland in a deciding frame.
A new country to the World Cup this year, Iran will be led by Hossein Vafaei Ayouri, who notably qualified for the venue stages of a full ranking event for the first time last week at the Australian Goldfields Open qualifiers.
A former world amateur champion and reigning world under-21 champion, 20-year-old Hossein will be joined by Ehsan Heydari Nezhad, selected on the back of his run to the last 16 of the recent Asian Championship.
Another new country at the World Cup, Malaysia will be represented by their only current professional Thor Chuan Leong, alongside amateur Mohammad Reza Hassan.
Having earned a two-year tour card with victory at the 2014 Asian Championship, Leong entered his first main tour events back in February 2015, attempting to qualify for the Indian and China Open tournaments.
Although he is yet to win a match as a professional, he was able to take world champion Stuart Bingham to a decider at the BetVictor Welsh Open, before winning seven frames against Jimmy Robertson at the Betfred World Championship qualifiers.
Hassan meanwhile earned his place by making it through to the semi-finals of this year’s Asian Championship, losing to eventual champion Hamza Akbar.
Returning to the World Cup with an all-new line-up from 2011, Brazil will be represented by outgoing professional Igor Figueiredo and Itaro Santos.
Despite no longer being on the main tour, Figueiredo has enjoyed success as a professional, particularly at the Betfred World Championship where this year he defeated Nigel Bond and Rod Lawler to reach the final qualifying round, before losing to Finland’s Robin Hull.
As for Santos, he turned professional at the start of this season as a result of his victory at this year’s Pan American Championship in January.
Prior to claiming a tour place he has been a regular face at amateur events such as the PIOS and more recently Q School events, while he was also one of the seven WPBSA invites to participate in this year’s Betfred World Championship qualifiers.
The final team in Group B, Belgium will be led by BetVictor Welsh Open semi-finalist Luca Brecel, who effectively steps up to team leader with 2011 partner Bjorn Haneveer no longer playing on the tour.
This time he will be joined by amateur Thomas Skalski, who was selected by his national governing body having participated in several European Tour events during the past five years.
The pair will be hoping to improve upon their 2011 showing when they lost all four of their group games.
Come back tomorrow for my run-down on Group C, featuring Australia, Wales, Pakistan, Qatar, Poland and Northern Ireland…