THE Unibet European Championship begins on Friday as Michael van Gerwen opens his bid to complete a treble of wins in the event against in-form 2012 champion Simon Whitlock at the Ethias Arena in Hasselt, Belgium.

The £400,000 tournament sees the top 32 players following the year's ten PDC European Tour events competing across three days, live on ITV4.

World number one van Gerwen produced a memorable comeback to claim last year's title against Gary Anderson, taking four successive legs to snatch an 11-10 win in the final.

The pair are amongst the 32-player field in Belgium this weekend, with the reigning champion coming up against Australian ace Whitlock.

Whitlock, who won the 2012 European Championship, was a 6-3 winner when the pair last met over the best-of-11 leg format at the start of October, although van Gerwen later took a 3-1 sets win on his way to the Unibet World Grand Prix title in Dublin.

Van Gerwen won six of the year's ten European Tour events to secure the top seeding coming into the European Championship, where he is aiming to win a major title for three successive years for the first time.

"I'm doing new things all the time and to win a big title like this three times in a row would be another personal record," said the 27-year-old, who is sponsors Unibet's pre-tournament favourite.

"This was the first major title that I ever defended and that was a big moment for me too because I've gone on to do it a couple of times since.

"I also did really well on the European Tour so that makes me more determined to win this tournament but I know it won't be easy, especially playing a good player like Simon in the first round.

"We had a great game in the World Grand Prix and he has won a couple of titles recently so I know that I will have to be at my very best right from the beginning of this tournament."

Whitlock has won two Players Championship titles this month and is in confident mood as he prepares for Friday's first round, and admitted: "There are no easy draws but getting Michael in the first round has to be the hardest.

"I think he will be looking at it the same way as me because he knows how well I've been playing recently too.

"I'm going into it full of confidence with a couple of titles and a win against Michael under my belt this month and there is no reason why I can't win that match.

"If I do, my confidence will be sky high and I'd be in with a great shout for the title. It's a tournament I’ve done very well in in the past and I haven't felt as good entering a big tournament for a couple of years."

Another player in buoyant mood travelling to Hasselt is Alan Norris, whose victory in the year's final European Tour event, in Germany a fortnight ago, secured him his second PDC title and seventh place in the seedings.

Despite drawing the legendary Phil Taylor - a four-time European Championship winner and 4/1 second favourite - in the first round, the Bo'ness-based thrower said: "I'm full of confidence.

"I've got myself up the rankings and done enough to get seeded, but obviously Phil's as tough a draw as you can get, but I've got to look at him as just another player.

"I've played him twice before and won the bull the first time and one leg the second time, so I can only improve! He's the best and a legend, but this is an opportunity for me and I've nothing to lose.

"I'll go up there and enjoy myself. My form has been good and I can't wait."

The first round will also feature the high-profile meeting between World Champion Anderson - the 7/1 third favourite with Unibet - and James Wade, who won a European Tour event in Hamburg in May as he secured the fourth seeding.

Austria's Mensur Suljovic, who claimed his first ranking title by winning a European Tour event in Germany last month, is seeded second as he opens against Holland's Jermaine Wattimena.

Peter Wright, the number three seed who reached a trio of European Tour finals this year, plays Justin Pipe, while Belgium's Kim Huybrechts plays James Wilson and Dave Chisnall - a back-to-back European Tour runner-up in May - takes on Australia's Kyle Anderson.

Holland's Jelle Klaasen, who lost narrowly to Norris in the year's final European Tour event, completes the eight seeds and faces in-form Steve West, who is making his European Championship debut.

Friday afternoon's opening session will include a clash between two of the sport's top emerging talents as Dutch ace Benito van de Pas - a three-time ranking event winner this year - faces Germany's Max Hopp, the 2015 World Youth Champion.

Two other emerging talents also clash as Joe Cullen plays Chris Dobey, while another former World Youth Champion, Michael Smith, meets Stephen Bunting and 2014 European Championship finalist Terry Jenkins takes on Ian White.

2015 World Grand Prix winner Robert Thornton plays emerging Spanish ace Cristo Reyes, Mervyn King faces South Africa's Devon Petersen, Northern Ireland's Daryl Gurney tackles Welsh ace Gerwyn Price and two-time quarter-finalist Jamie Caven meets James Richardson.

The Unibet European Championship will be broadcast live on ITV4 and worldwide through the PDC's series of international broadcast partners.

For tickets, visit www.pdc-europe.tv.

Schedule of Play
Friday October 28
Afternoon Session (1.45pm-6pm local time, 12.45pm-5pm UK time)

First Round x8
Jamie Caven v James Richardson
Daryl Gurney v Gerwyn Price
Chris Dobey v Joe Cullen
Ian White v Terry Jenkins
Cristo Reyes v Robert Thornton
Mervyn King v Devon Petersen
Michael Smith v Stephen Bunting
Max Hopp v Benito van de Pas

Evening Session (8pm-12am local time, 7pm-11pm UK time)
First Round x8
Jelle Klaasen (8) v Steve West
Kim Huybrechts (5) v James Wilson
Dave Chisnall (6) v Kyle Anderson
Mensur Suljovic (2) v Jermaine Wattimena
Peter Wright (3) v Justin Pipe
Alan Norris (7) v Phil Taylor
Michael van Gerwen (1) v Simon Whitlock
James Wade (4) v Gary Anderson

First Round - Best of 11 legs