Darts Preview: Unibet European Championship

After a qualifying circuit spanning 8 months with events in Austria, Germany, Gibraltar and Holland, the 32-player line up for this weekend’s 2017 European Championship is confirmed.

This £400,000 tournament, now celebrating a decade on the PDC calendar, is undoubtedly a very big deal, although the initial emphasis from a fan’s point of view may be on who won’t be in Hasselt competing.

The qualification process for this was independent of any other Order of Merit or Ranking List in the Professional Darts Corporation system. Only prize money won during the 12 Euro Tour competitions throughout the year counted.

As a consequence, for one reason or another, this means Phil Taylor, Raymond van Barneveld, Gary Anderson, Adrian Lewis and James Wade all miss out.

Despite the notable absence of these superstar names, there will be plenty of in-form talent present and attempting to make the most of their opportunity.

World Champion Michael van Gerwen has won this title the last three years in a row. Having claimed half of the Euro Tour legs this campaign, he goes to Belgium as the Number 1 seed.

However, there are some concerns in backing the even money pre-tournament favourite.

Although taking time out becoming a Dad for the first time, the last few months on the oche have been disappointing for Mighty Mike.

He was flattened by Taylor 16-6 in the Quarter-Finals of the Matchplay, failed to get out of his group at the Champions League of Darts and was shocked by John Henderson in the First Round of the World Grand Prix. Admittedly, he did claim the European Darts Trophy a fortnight ago in Gottingen.

Another current problem for the Dutchman is his re-occurring medical issue of bursitis in his left ankle. The injury was so troublesome, it led to him withdrawing mid-event at last weekend’s German Darts Masters World Series stop. MVG pulled out before his Last 8 tie with Wade, presumably in order to prepare and be fully fit to defend this championship, which is more important.

Throughout the tournament it is a legs format. Just like the other big names, he is most vulnerable in Round One of these events when it is just the first to 6, although I do think he has a comfortable opener against fellow countryman Jan Dekker.

Other players in the top half could challenge him, but by that stage the races are longer, which will obviously suit him, depending on his ankle complaint, of course.

Elsewhere in this half is arguably the fixture of the round when Champions League winner Mensur Suljovic and Kim Huybrechts will clash in a potentially emotional and fiery all-continental European affair.

Peter Wright sensationally won 5 ET events in 2017, just being pipped to the top seeding position at the end. The best season of his professional career already, he put aside some recent blips and inconsistency by thrashing Taylor 11-4 in Dusseldorf last weekend for his maiden World Series title.

The Scot should be brimming with confidence, but banking consecutive victories will be a tall order. First up he faces BDO World Masters champion Krzysztof Ratajski of Poland and could clash with recent World Grand Prix victor Daryl Gurney in the Last 8.

Professional rookie Rob Cross has had a dream start to life on the top tier. So incredible his feats in Europe have been, the player nicknamed ‘Voltage’ is the Number 6 seed.

In a very tricky to call and even balanced fourth quarter of the drawsheet, Cross will have to improve his TV record to negotiate perhaps more fancied opponents in Michael Smith (Number 3 seed), Dave Chisnall and Benito van de Pas.

We caught up with Unibet’s Alistair Gill to get their take on the European Championship

It’s almost a sense of Déjà vu at the head of the market for the Unibet European Championship, with MVG yet again the odds on favourite at 8/11 despite the depth of quality throughout this high class field. The fact he has only just been declared fit to line up at the event after injury doesn’t seem to have put off the traders at all and they aren’t keen to take him on, but does it leave the door open for others to come out on top of the World Number 1?!

There are a few interesting developments when looking at the money coming in for this one, with punters seemingly content that MVG is too short and the value lies elsewhere, with the short priced favourite being edged out of top spot for both most bets and most money. Unibet has seen most money for world number 3 Peter Wright, second favourite at 4/1, although this is owed heavily to one particular punter who has shown his faith in the Scotsman with a substantial bet. In terms of most bets, that honour currently sits with the in-form recent Champions League of Darts winner Mensur Suljovic, surely representing great value at 16/1.

Whatever happens over the next 4 days, there is great quality right throughout this field and undoubtedly value to be found running deep down the list!

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