BELGIUM produced an incredible fightback to beat the Republic of Ireland 5-4 in one of the greatest ever Betway World Cup of Darts matches in Frankfurt.
The 32-nation tournament continued at the Eissporthalle with the final eight first round games on Friday night, as Kim Huybrechts and World Cup debutant Dimitri Van den Bergh found themselves trailing 3-0 after a blistering start from Irish pair William O'Connor and Steve Lennon.
Van den Bergh hit a crucial 130 checkout to pull it back to 4-3, and the seventh seeds then struck an 11-dart leg to break throw and take the tie all the way.
A high-quality last leg saw O’Connor fire in a 180, only for Van den Bergh replied with a maximum of his own, before Huybrechts found double 18 with his last dart to set up a meeting with Finland in Saturday’s second round.
“I think it was an all-time classic World Cup game,” said Huybrechts.
“Before the draw was made we knew Ireland was one of the teams we wanted to avoid and they gave us a hard game as we knew they would.
“Obviously it’s different for me this year playing with Dimitri but he is one of the best players in the world – a future world star.
“If we can play to our best level then we’ve got a real chance of doing some damage here.”
Finland recorded their first win at a World Cup in five years with an impressive 5-1 win over Greece.
Marko Kantele and Kim Viljanen produced a solid display to see off the Greek pairing of John Michael and Veniamin Symeonidis, and it was Kantele who sealed their passage into round two with a 112 checkout.
Sixth seeds Northern Ireland produced a stunning fightback from 4-2 down to beat Poland in a 5-4 thriller.
Polish pair Krzysztof Ratajski and Tytus Kanik more clinical on the doubles than Daryl Gurney and Brendan Dolan as they went within a leg of victory.
However, with the Poles waiting on a finish, Gurney stepped up to take out a 101 under immense pressure to book Northern Ireland’s place in round two where they will have the chance to avenge last year’s first round defeat to hosts Germany.
“We kept on fighting to stay in the game and it was such a great feeling to take out the 101 at the end,” said Gurney.
“In the last leg I said to myself ‘if Brendan hits a 140 I will take out the 101’ and sure enough that’s what I did.
“In that situation you really don’t want to let down your partner but we got the win, and now we want to play better in the rest of the tournament and go a long way.”
Germany’s exciting young pairing of Max Hopp and Martin Schindler defeated Sweden 5-3 to book their place in Saturday’s action in front of a passionate home crowd.
Sweden’s Daniel Larsson and Dennis Nilsson played their way into a 3-2 lead before Germany rattled off the next three legs in quick succession, including a stunning 126 checkout from Schindler.
“To win in front of our home crowd is always very special,” said Hopp.
“I am so proud of Martin tonight, he hit some great shots and that 126 was really special.
“Of course, tomorrow Northern Ireland will want revenge for last year but we are confident that we will rise to the challenge again and go far in this event.”
England’s new-look pairing of Rob Cross and Dave Chisnall held off a Czech Republic fightback to record a 5-3 win.
The Englishmen took control of the game as they raced into a 4-1 lead, before Karel Sedláček and Roman Benecky won back-to-back legs to put the pressure on.
However, England struck an impressive 13-dart leg to seal victory and set up a last 16 clash with Singapore.
“I was a bit nervous but it's great to represent my country,” said Cross.
“It's weird, I've never played pairs before but it was a decent start and we'll be better for this now that I've had the experience of the stage and won the game.
“I feel really good at the minute and I'm enjoying this so far.”
Singapore stole the show in last year’s first round with a famous win over Scotland, and the legendary Paul Lim and partner Harith Lim enjoyed another 5-3 triumph over New Zealand in their opening game of the evening.
The Kiwi duo of Cody Harris and Warren Parry started well as they took an early 2-0 lead, before Singapore rattled off the next four legs to go within a leg of victory.
New Zealand pulled another one back, only for Paul Lim to take out 68 to seal Singapore’s place in the last 16 where they will look to replicate last year’s giant-killing exploits.
“Nobody likes to lose in the first round so we are delighted to be through,” said Paul Lim.
“We love it on that stage and I think we can do even better than we have done the last few years.
“I can’t wait to face England, I’m really looking forward to that match and hopefully we can play the same game we did against Scotland last year and cause another huge shock.”
Reigning champions The Netherlands put down a statement of intent as they cruised to a 5-0 whitewash of Gibraltar.
Michael van Gerwen and Raymond van Bareneveld, playing together at a World Cup for a sixth successive year, were in relentless form as they recorded an impressive 102.95 average, the highest of the opening round.
Gibraltar duo Dyson Parody and Justin Broton were powerless to stop the onslaught from The Netherlands, and the Dutch duo will now face South Africa in Saturday’s second round.
“I don’t think we can complain at all with how we played,” said Van Gerwen.
“It was a phenomenal performance from both of us which we can build on going into the next round.
“Whichever team you play you need to give it 100% and that’s what we will be doing for the rest of the tournament and hopefully we will win it again.”
South Africa battled their way to a 5-3 win over Hungary as they reached the last 16 for a second consecutive year.
World Cup stalwart Devon Petersen had debutant Liam O’Brien to thank for a 160 checkout and the all important winning-double to see off Hungarian pair Tamás Alexits and Nándor Bezzeg.
“Winning ugly or winning beautifully is still winning,” said Petersen.
“Liam did brilliantly well to perform on the PDC stage for the first time, and it goes to show how many quality players we have in South Africa.
“We’ve got the opportunity now to do some real damage in this tournament and put South African darts on the map.”
Saturday's second round sees the remaining 16 nations in action across two sessions at the Eissporthalle, with the format including a mixture of Singles and Doubles matches.
The Betway World Cup of Darts will be broadcast live on Sky Sports and through the PDC's series of international broadcast partners, as well as via PDCTV-HD for International Pass subscribers. For ticket information, please visit www.pdc-europe.tv.
For tickets, visit www.pdc-europe.tv/tickets.
2018 Betway World Cup of Darts
Schedule of Play
Friday June 1
Singapore 5-3 New Zealand
Finland 5-1 Greece
Northern Ireland 5-4 Poland
South Africa 5-3 Hungary
Belgium 5-4 Republic of Ireland
England 5-3 Czech Republic
Germany 5-3 Sweden
Netherlands 5-0 Gibraltar
Saturday June 2
Afternoon Session (1.30pm local time, 12.30pm BST)
Wales v Switzerland
Australia v Spain
Japan v Canada
Scotland v Brazil
Evening Session (7pm local time, 6pm BST)
Belgium v Finland
England v Singapore
Northern Ireland v Germany
Netherlands v South Africa
Format: The Second Round will be played as two best of seven leg 501 Singles matches, with both nations nominating the order in which their players play. In the event of both nations winning one Singles match apiece, a best of seven leg 501 Doubles match will be played to decide the tie.