by Simon Daish
Fine performances from João Monteiro and Tiago Apolonia at the Europe Top 16 tournament hosted in Portugal, their home country, saw both players acquire top eight finishes to guarantee their places at the World Cup.
Both Monteiro and Apolonia topped their respective qualifying groups in Gondomar, and by the conclusion of the competition Apolonia had secured seventh place while Monteiro impressively finished as the runner up to Germany’s Dimitrij Ovtcharov.
Monteiro’s Men’s World Cup debut is closing in fast, but his fellow countryman Apolonia is no stranger to the competition.
Ups and Downs for Portugal
The 2016 Men’s World Cup will be Tiago Apolonia’s third consecutive appearance at the contest, having featured at both the 2014 and 2015 renditions.
Apolonia was in fine form at the 2014 tournament in Düsseldorf and even managed a shock victory against Marcos Freitas (POR) in the Round of 16, before eventually exiting at the Quarter-Finals stage to Ma Long (CHN).
After a strong showing on his Men’s World Cup debut, Apolonia was expected to enjoy more success at the Liebherr 2015 Men’s World Cup but an early elimination in his qualifying group on games countback followed in Halmstad.
No Room for Freitas
Marcos Freitas has spearheaded Portugal’s charge at previous World Cups, but for the first time since 2011 the 28-year-old will not be making an appearance at the event.
With a maximum of two players from each country allowed to participate at the World Cup, a worse-off finish than both Tiago Apolonia and João Monteiro at the Europe Top 16 tournament meant there were no positions available for Marcos Freitas in 2016’s cup battle.
Successful Campaigns Expected for Duo?
The other names that have made the Liebherr 2016 Men’s World Cup entry list are rivals that Monteiro and Apolonia know well, and will see opportunities for potential scalps depending on the outcome of the draw.
Alexander Shibaev (RUS), Simon Gauzy (FRA) and Dimitrij Ovtcharov (GER) have all been defeated by Monteiro in 2016, and Apolonia enters as the seventh highest world ranked player taking part in the World Cup.
Portugal are yet to really take off in the Men’s World Cup, but is that about to change? Can João Monteiro and Tiago Apolonia achieve the unthinkable and compete for the main prize in Saarbrücken or will they be subject to shock early exits? The answers to these questions will be revealed over the weekend’s play.