Where has 2006 gone? It doesn’t seem like yesterday since I was watching Adrian Lewis storm off the Purfleet stage in protest at Peter Manley’s gamesmanship. It worked for ‘One Dart’ who went on to the final only to be annihilated 7-0 by Phil Taylor in a little sweet revenge for the potteries boys. That was The Power’s 13th World title – what an achievement. Was that really a year ago? So much has happened in the last year and the landscape for this year’s Ladbrokes World Championship looks rather exciting.

A top class field of 64 players will do battle over Christmas and New Year, with the top PDC players being joined by qualifiers from all corners of the globe – Australia, Japan, Canada, South Africa, China, USA and New Zealand are all represented to give the tournament a truly cosmopolitan feel. Can any of these new faces overcome the big guns and make a name for themselves here in the UK? Well we don’t have to wait long to find out – they toe the oche on December 18th – and I will try to give some insight here into how things might pan out.

International Qualifiers

The 64 player field consists of the top 32 in the PDC rankings who are joined by 16 PDC qualifiers and 16 international qualifiers. The international qualifiers came from numerous competitions staged around the world, which were deemed as tickets to The Tavern. Many are making their Purfleet debut this year. In fact some countries are making their debut – South Africa are represented for the first time by Wynand Havenga, Austria debut with Anton Pein, Denmark with Per Laursen.

Canada have three qualifiers, two of who make their debut. Brian Cyr and Ron Miller are unknown quantities, while Gerry Convery will be making his third appearance. He reached the third round on his debut in 2005, losing to countryman Part. Last year he beat Askew before going out to Warriner-Little in round two. The USA have two players involved – the familiar face of John Kuczynski who reached the last 16 in 2005 will be joined by the less familiar Bill Davis, a 47 year old from Philadelphia. Davis contested the WSOD and Desert Classic this year and won a four player play-off to get here.

Two Aussies, Anthony Fleet and Mitchell Clegg represent their country. Clegg chances are discussed below and Fleet is the AGP champion. New Zealand have Warren French who beat a thousand strong field in the NZ National Singles to qualify. China are represented by Shi Yongsheng who has past experience of playing Taylor. Japan have Tetsuya Wada flying their flag, a 23 year old systems engineer from Yokohama City. All are making their debut.

From Europe, Tomas Seyler is the German number one and makes his second appearance after beating Harvey then losing to Scholten last year. Dutchman Josephus Schenk also makes his second appearance after reaching the last 16 on his debut two years ago, beating Manley along the way. 40 year old Dane Per Laursen reached the last 16 at The Lakeside in 2006 and won three of the four qualifying events required to get here. It’s his debut and he has past experience of playing Barneveld in the World Cup. Austrian Anton Pein is a top class soft tip player and was the final qualifier for this year’s competition. The last qualifier to mention is 19 year old Dutch player Rico Vonck, which bring us nicely to…

Teenage Kicks

There will be two teenage debutants in this year’s competition – Rico Vonck of Holland and Mitchell Clegg of Australia. At a time when the two major BDO titles (World Masters & World Championship) are held by teenagers, interest in the fortunes of Vonck and Clegg will be high. Of the two, Vonck has by far the best chance of progressing past round one. He takes on a struggling Mark Walsh and will be hoping to continue Walshy’s bad run in the majors with an early upset. Clegg has the formidable task of playing a certain Raymond van Barneveld first up. I can’t see a shock there but the experience will be invaluable to Clegg who is about to turn 16.

PDC Qualifiers

There were four former world champions among the field for the qualifiers weekend at Villa Park in December. Only Richie Burnett made it through with Bristow, Lowe & Deller all falling short. Burnett is up against Alex Roy first up and will fancy his chances against a player whose ranking is going in the wrong direction. Of the other qualifiers I think those with a decent chance of progressing are Colin Osborne, Mick McGowan and Alan Tabern.

Osborne will be in the top reaches of the PDC next year. A highly gifted thrower, he can overcome a tentative Painter who may have been living off his 2005 final appearance a little too long. Back Osborne to shock The Artist. McGowan has the game and the form to beat anybody in the field at the moment. He will even start favourite against Matt Clark and if he comes through to face Taylor in round two, expect fireworks. This guy could go a long way. Tabern plays out of form Warriner-Little and if both play to their 2006 form Tabern could well sneak it. The Iceman needs to find some improvement – the signs are there but its now delivery time.

I can’t see any of Alan Green, Ian Branks, Alan Caves, Dave Jowett and Mark Lawrence progressing. Part, Jones, Mardle, Manley and Terry Jenkins should be too experienced for them. Gary Welding will get no change from Andy Hamilton and Darren Webster has only a fleeting chance against Anderson. Both may be worth a speculative punt but no more.

There are then a clutch of matches where anything can happen, and these look like a punters nightmare. Atwood against Mason hinges on which Mason turns up. Gray against Baxter is a similar story. Baxter has had an awful last few months – sliding down the rankings out of the top 10 and missing out on the Premier League. Gray is fully capable of beating The Rocket and might be worthy of a couple of quid. Martin Burchell comes up against Dave Askew who is danger of slipping into oblivion. He has to win here to stop the rot and if Burchell gets a good start he could pile on the misery for Diamond Dave. Lionel Sams has had several first round slip-ups on television but has started to show his undoubted talent this last year. It has to be said that his first round defeats have usually come against good opponents (Mardle several times) and although Dave Ladley can give him a game, I think The Lion will edge it.

Luck Of The Draw

While Taylor will be grateful that Barney is drawn in the other half, Colin Lloyd will be cursing his luck at the prospect of a second round dust up. Barney had to start from scratch when he defected to the PDC with zero ranking points. During 2006 he has amassed enough points to rise to number 32 in the world, just in time for automatic qualification here. That’s a pretty stunning achievement to be honest but it means the number one seed, Lloyd, will get an unwanted early test. Having said that Barney has recently changed his darts and could be vulnerable to a flying Lloyd – he was very shaky in Dublin against Warriner and more clinical doubling from The Iceman could, and perhaps should, have put the Dutchman out. I fancy the winner of this second round match to reach the final, Lloyd warms to the task as he progresses through a competition and if he is still there at the end he is very difficult to shift. World number one doesn’t get handed out in xmas crackers. However, he is also a prime candidate for an early shock in any event. Several times in the last couple of years he has been dumped out by an underdog – Gary Welding here last year, Steve Maish at Blackpool, Bob Anderson in Irleland – and it’s perhaps no given that he will get past Tomas Seyler to face Barney in the second round?

Taylor may have avoided his nemesis but is certainly in the toughest half of the draw. He is likely to come up against Mick McGowan in the second round and he will not relish that prospect one bit and it doesn’t get any easier after that. Of the other top seeds I think Roland Scholten will be most pleased with his draw. Adrian Lewis likewise. There are no easy games of course but you can still pick the people you would and wouldn’t like to see in your path and I think The Tripod & Jackpot will be relatively happy with their lot.

The bottom half of the draw is a minefield of difficult opponents and I’m anticipating some ding dong battles throughout the tournament in the most hard to predict section. The fortunes of two young hopefuls, Wade and Hamilton will be influenced by the ominous figure of the best player in 2006 – Dennis Priestley. Hamilton could meet him in round 3 and Wade could meet him in the quarters. Priestley has beaten them both in recent months along with most other players he’s faced. I fancy The Menace to reach the semis at least here but if one of these two can stop that from happening, they have a great chance of the title and the final Premier League berth. Terry Jenkins is also in that section to complicate it even further.

Power & The Glory?

Phil Taylor will be mightily relieved that Barney did not accumulate a few extra points in the run up to qualification. One place higher and they would have been drawn to meet in round two. As it is they separated by the draw and can’t meet until the final. It’s a distinct possibility but I have a sneaking feeling that The Power won’t have it all his way this year.

Wayne Mardle was on the verge of knocking him out of last years World Championship but just couldn’t get over the hill. That was a sign that The Power’s power was possibly starting to wane. Of course we’d be foolish to write off one of the greatest, and most successful, sportsmen the world has ever seen but are there signs that a glorious story may be entering its final chapter?

Beaten on more than one occasion by Barney in 2006 and not as dominant in the major events as he has been throughout his career. Of course he’s won the lion’s share of the trophies on offer this year, but not always in the steamroller fashion we’ve come to expect. There have been several nervy performances, where a more clinical attitude from his opponent could have spelled big trouble, and the fear factor isn’t the same as it once was. Players now feel they have a chance. Get stuck into him early and you can get a result.

He’s also in the toughest half of the draw. A straightforward first round win should see a clash with a red hot Mick McGowan who beat Taylor back in November. McGowan had a storming finish to the year and really will fancy his chances. It doesn’t get any easier after that either – old foe John Part is the likely third round opponent. There’s Manley, Baxter, Wade, Priestley, Hamilton and in form Terry Jenkins all potential hurdles. All have played and lost to Taylor this year but I feel the gap is closing.

Jenkins was the man Taylor beat in the World Grand Prix final but again there were signs of vulnerability and Jenkins will have learned a lot from his first televised final. They could meet in the semis here. The longer format always suits Taylor and in all likeliness he will be lifting the trophy on New Years Day, but I think there’s a fair to middling chance we could see a new champion this time around. Who it will be is anybody’s guess but that’s the fun part!

Can The Postman Deliver?

It’s Barney’s first PDC World Championship and after setting the sport alight throughout 2006 he will be hoping for big things here. He qualified in the final automatic spot, which is no mean feat in just one season. Provisionally ranked fourth on the Order of Merit and a multi time winner of the BDO version, he will be the one nobody wants to face. The draw has kept him in the opposite half to Taylor and the majority of the neutrals will no doubt be hoping for that dream final. Assuming a safe first round passage, His biggest test will come in round two when he is likely to be up against world number one Colin Lloyd. Get through that and he will be full of confidence. His half of the draw puts the likes of Wayne Mardle, Roland Scholten & Adrian Lewis as potential obstacles but if he brings his A-game and gets past Lloyd, the final beckons.

So Where Will The Shocks Be?

The bookies are not daft and it isn’t always easy to find value in match betting – you usually have take a bit of a punt. The key is definitely form but the odds usually reflect that. For example Mick McGowan had done relatively little until a couple of months ago but will go into his match with Matt Clark as overwhelming favourite due to the current form of both men. Alex Roy and Richie Burnett are separated by 20 places in the rankings but the odds will be about even.

We have to try to find players on the slide who are taking on players who are perhaps more hungry and on the up. Into this category I’d put the Dudbridge v Kuczynski, Walsh v Vonck, Askew v Burchell, Painter v Osborne matches. Maybe Baxter v Gray, Monk v Laursen and Warriner-Little v Tabern as well. There will be some value in the underdog in these games and some will come out on top I’m sure.

There are also a few players who are prime ‘first round shock’ candidates because of their history. Some people just have real trouble getting over that first hurdle – be it the nerves or whatever – they usually go on to do well if they clear the first round but are often worth a small bet at good odds. I’m thinking of Lloyd, who will be difficult to oppose against Seyler but the odds will be good and he’s got ‘first round shock’ form. Sams is another who has struggled with the first round in the past and Ladley may capitalise. Monk, Beaton and Askew are others to consider.

That Final Premier League Place

The added ingredient to this year’s tournament is the prospect of winning that final Premier League place. It has traditionally gone to the player who reaches the final, providing they haven’t already qualified. For 2007 the field has been increased to 8 players and we already have two debutants – Dennis Priestley and Terry Jenkins. There’s a good chance a third debutant could join them.

Two of last year’s field, Mardle & Baxter, missed out at the last minute this time due to a bad end to the year. Both will be eager to reach the final here and put themselves back in the frame for a pick. I’m not sure they’ll do well enough and I’m also not sure that’s what the public wants. I have a feeling most people would like to see another new face in there and the likes of Andy Hamilton, Adrian Lewis and James Wade must have a huge chance if they can do well here. I think the pick will reflect public opinion and if the final ends up being Taylor v Barneveld, it will be the players who provides the most fireworks, and not necessarily who gets furthest, who will get the nod.

Others in with a shout are John Part who contested the first Premier League, Wes Newton who has quite a favourable draw here and could do well, Barrie Bates who has had a dream 2006, and possibly even Mick McGowan if his late flourish blossoms into a good run here. If it does he will have got past Phil Taylor and would deserve the place.

DartsMad Punters Choice

The winner – from Taylor, Barneveld or Lloyd. The value is obviously with Barney & Lloyd if you’re brave enough to oppose The Power.

Could go all the way – Lewis, Priestley. Worth an each way bet. If they reach the final you get paid.

Steer clear of – Walsh, Askew, Painter, Roy, Baxter, Mason, Dudbridge.

Watch out for – Bates, Osborne, McGowan, Hamilton, Wade, Terry Jenkins & Wes Newton

First round picks

I think most matches will go with form to the seeded player. The WSOD was a prime example where only one US player reached the second round. The other 15 places were all filled by the PDC pros and I anticipate something similar here. Those that I think will buck the trend are…

Burnett to beat Roy
Osborne to beat Painter
McGowan to beat Clark

Plus possibly…
Vonck to beat Walsh
Gray to beat Baxter
Tabern to beat Warriner-Little
Webster to beat Anderson

After that it’s difficult to pick an underdog with any degree of enthusiasm so back the favourites. Remember though, there will be some shocks so if you are brave with your money you may reap the rewards. Either that or you need a crystal ball. Good luck!

Alan ‘Iceman’ Warriner-Little’s World Championship Preview

Phil Taylor aims for his 14th World Championship which starts on Monday 18th
December, live from the Circus Tavern in Purfleet, Essex. Every match is live on SKY Sports.

Taylor should easily beat his first round opponent Anton Pein from Austria, but will not have it his own way in the second round against Mick McGowan and we could see the first real shock of
the tournament. Irishman McGowan who makes his debut here, beat Taylor recently and
is quickly becoming one of the best players on the circuit. He should get through his first round game against Matt Clark.

World number one Colin Lloyd should play Raymond Van Barneveld in the second round if
they each win their first round games. This should be the tie of the round and a spicy boxing day clash. The winner of this game should play Welshman Barry Bates for a place in the quarter finals. Also in this half yours truly hopes to be playing Wayne Mardle for the privilege of taking on
either Bates, Barney or Lloyd.

Some of the toughest first round games are myself against Alan Tabern, Kevin Painter v Colin Osbourne and Andy Hamilton v Gary Welding. All look like xmas crackers!

Here are my quarter final predictions…

Barneveld v Warriner-Little
Lewis v Scholten
McGowan v Anderson
Wade v Priestley

Merry xmas!