With the announcement that the World Cup of snooker will return to the calendar next season in Wuxi, last month I took a preliminary look at how the field might look, but with several events held since then, how has the situation changed since?
On the basis that the field will be determined by the world ranking list at the end of this season, I make the current state of play to be as follows:
It was a close run battle right to the last, but as both Xiao Guodong and Liang Wenbo fell at the final qualifying round of the Betfred World Championship, it was Xiao who was able to finish ahead of his countryman and cement his place as China’s number two at the end of the season.
That means that he looks set to join number one Ding Junhui in his home city of Wuxi as the pair will look to defend the title won by China back in 2011.
In terms of rankings, Liang Wenbo and Yu Delu are the next two players in line to earn places at the World Cup, the pair sitting in 22nd and 52nd places respectively in the provisional ranking list.
Word has it though that places in the China B team may not necessarily be decided by ranking, with rumours of two of their young and rising talents being paired together.
If true, it could be that the likes of Zhou Yuelong, Zhao Xintong and Yan Bingtao might be in line for a call-up…
With Mark Selby a certainty to qualify as England’s top player and suggestions that current second placed man Ronnie O’Sullivan may not participate in the event, there is now a five-way fight at the Crucible to join Selby in Wuxi.
Leading the way after the first round is Joe Perry, who vaulted up into contention following his victory at the Players Championship last month which earned him £100,000 towards his ranking total.
Just behind him are Judd Trump and Shaun Murphy, while both Barry Hawkins and Stuart Bingham are still both within striking distance should either enjoy a run to the one-table stage here at the Betfred World Championship.
Following his victory at the Welsh Open, John Higgins has already made sure of his place on Scotland’s World Cup team, while Stephen Maguire must now wait to see whether either Graeme Dott or Anthony McGill can overtake him in Sheffield this week.
For Dott, a run to the semi-finals would be sufficient, while McGill would need to reach the final, becoming the first debutant to do so since Terry Griffiths back in 1979.
Despite earlier than expected exits for both at the Betfred World Championship, both Mark Williams and Michael White remain on course to represent Wales in Wuxi, the pair currently set to finish 14th and 17th in the rankings at the end of the season.
The only man stll capable of changing that is Matthew Stevens, who would require a run to the final in Sheffield, if he is to overtake White by the end of the tournament.
Northern Ireland will be represented at the World Cup by both Mark Allen and Gerard Greene, with Joe Swail having failed to bridge a large gap to Greene during the last month.
It came all the way down to the Betfred World Championship qualifiers, but as was the case back in 1996 when they made it all the way to the final, both Fergal O’Brien and Ken Doherty will represent Ireland at the World Cup, with remaining contender David Morris having lost out to Lee Walker in Sheffield.
Following Vinnie Calabrese’s resignation from the main tour earlier this year, there are now just two Australian players on the main tour, world number fot Neil Robertson and Steve Mifsud, who has competed in just one professional event this season.
Whether Mifsud would wish to take part is unclear, but with Vinnie Calabrese having recently claimed victory at the Oceania Championship, he would presumably be in the running if Mifsud were to opt out.
Snooker’s only professional to represent Hong Kong, Marco Fu is a certainty to appear at the World Cup, but it remains to be seen who will be his teammate, with Fung Kwok Wai having partnered him in 2011.
Could it be that newly crowned world ladies champion Ng On Yee will be selected to partner Marco?
Thailand will be represented by Dechawat Poomjaeng and Thepchaiya Un-Nooh in Wuxi, as the country’s two representatives inside the world’s top 64 players.
As with Hong Kong, Belgium currently has just one main tour professional, with BetVictor Welsh Open semi-finalist Luca Brecel set to lead his national team at the tournament and former team-mate Bjorn Haneveer now having retired from the sport.
Presumably Luca’s teammate will be selected from Belgium’s amateur ranks and it remains to be seen who this might be.
Following the resignation of Pankaj Advani from the main tour earlier this season, Aditya Mehta is now India’s sole representative on snooker’s main tour and so we will have to wait to see who will partner him in China.
Given his pedigree and former professional status, I would be surprised if this were not to be Advani, but we must for now await confirmation.
Probably the most clear cut selection of all of the nations, Maltese duo Tony Drago and Alex Borg will presumably represent the country as Malta’s only two professional players.
Brazil look set to be led by their sole professional representative Igor Figueiredo and perhaps he might be joined by Itaro Santos, who won the recent Pan American Championship in January and will be invited to join the main tour for next season.
Another country with just one professional, Norway will be led by Kurt Maflin and it remains to be seen who will partner him at the tournament.
Could we even see his wife and former Norway ladies champion Anita Maflin partner him in what would surely be a first for professional snooker?
Following the long-awaited approval of his visa application last month, Hossein Vafaei Ayouri promises to be a player who you will hear a lot more of over the coming months and surely he will be in line to represent his country at this year’s World Cup.
Again though, it is difficult to know who might partner him at the tournament at this time.
The final nation to be confirmed so far for this year’s World Cup is Malaysia, who will presumably be led by their sole professional player Thor Chuan Leong and one other teammate to be confirmed.