Luca Brecel Becomes First European To Win World Snooker Championship

By Ian John
May 2, 2023

For the first time in its lo ng history there has been a European winner of the World Snooker Championship, but not one that hails from the United Kingdom or Ireland.

Belgium’s top ranking professional Luca Brecel produced yet another outstanding performance to claim an 18-15 victory over Mark Selby in a final where the Belgian ace took the lead after the first frame, and never relinquished it.

The ninth seed was one of the longer odds offerings with bet365 Sport when the tournament began, ostensibly because ahead of this year, he had not won a single game at the Crucible.

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He had lost in the first round every time he had played at the venue in previous years, but he ended that run in some style on Monday night in front of a packed-out crowd, sealing the win with a typically flamboyant century-plus break.

“Going To Explode”

After his win, during his interview with BBC TV Presenter Hazel Irvine, an emotional Brecel admitted he was anxious during the final.

“I was so nervous because I just wanted it to happen for Belgium and for Europe,” Brecel stated.

“It’s going to explode. Now it has happened, I can’t wait to see what it brings to the world.

“Who would have thought that this moment was going to happen right now? I’m only 28 and still have so much time left in my career.

“It is surreal but the next few weeks it will feel like a dream. I don’t know what is going to happen when I get home. I am going to. be on a lot of television shows and doing a lot of interviews probably. It’ll be a crazy few weeks.”

Only Fourth Non-UK Player To Win The World Title

Since the modern era of Snooker began in the 1970’s, only four players from outside of Great Britain and Northern Ireland have won the tournament.

Canada’s Cliff Thorburn was the first doing so in 1980, before Ken Doherty of the Republic of Ireland became the second in 1997.

13-years later, it was Australian Neil Robertson who became the third in 2010 and new 13 years after that win, Brecel has achieved the feat becoming the first Belgian and Non-UK European to win the event.

It could be a seminal moment for the sport and it is perhaps the fruition of a dream to make snooker a more global sport.

Limited Representation In Top 100

While the Far East, notably China, has been producing many new snooker stars over the past decade or more, stars from other areas around the world are relatively scarce.

For example, in the top 100 rankings in the world at the moment, there is just Brecel plus four more players from mainland Europe.

Brecel has moved up to second in the World Rankings behind Ronnie O’Sullivan on the back of his World Championship win, but the next European player in the rankings is Julien Leclercq at 80, followed by Alex Ursenbacher of Switzerland in 87th,  Ben Mertens of Belgium in 94th and finally Germany’s Lukas Kleckers is the 100th ranked player in the list.

However, there is nothing like a World Championship win to stoke the fires of passion in a sport in a country and that is clearly what Luca Brecel is hoping for not only in his native Belgium but across Europe.

When Raymond van Barneveld won his first World title in the BDO World Darts Championship, that heralded a massive spurt of interest in darts in the Netherlands and across wider Europe that remains to this day.

This led to a number of darts stars appearing from all over Europe wth the likes of Mensur Suljovic (Austria), Michael van Gerwen (Netherlands), Kim Huybrechts (Belgium), Gabriel Clemens (Germany), Krzysztof Ratajski (Poland), Vincent van der Voort (Netherlands), Jelle Klaasen (Netherlands), Danny Noppert (Netherlands), Dirk van Duijvenbode (Netherlands), Dmitri Van den Bergh (Belgium), Jose de Sousa (Portugal) and Martin Schindler (Germany) all emerging in recent times.

Clearly Luca Brecel hopes his World Championship win will provide a springboard for success for other players based across Europe.

A Change Required In Belgium?

Belgian journalist Marnik Geukens from the Het Balang van Limburg newspaper, also believes that Brecel’s victory can be a key moment in the history of the sport in Belgium.

“In Belgium, this can give the sport a new boost,” he said of Brecel’s win.

“The nice thing is we have always had talent with Julien Leclerq and Ben Mertens coming through… but the big problem is infrastructure because a lot of snooker clubs are closing down due to finance.

“We need that to change in the long term and be ready to catch this moment.

“Luca is popular not only because of his nationality but because of his free-flowing style and people don’t leave matches he is involved in thinking snooker is boring.

“People are watching him in pubs back in Belgium as though the national football team were playing.”

Brecel’s Mixed History At The Crucible

Brecel’s laconic approach to the game is in contrast to the dedication shown by many top professionals these days.

The Belgian was the youngest-ever player to play at the Crucible when aged 17 back in 2012, but until this year had failed to win a game in five previous attempts at the tournament (in 2012, 2017, 2018, 2019 and 2022).

Indeed, Brecel almost went out in the first round again this year when he was taken to a deciding leg in his first round game against Ricky Walden.

Brecel had twice lost in deciding frames in the first round in previous years, to Marco Fu in 2017 and Gary Wilson in 2019, but this year, he managed to win that final frame that set him on his way.

Even then, the draw looked unfavourable for him as in the second round he would take on three-time World Champion Mark Williams, with Brecel coming through a tight game 13-11.

However, the game that probably first saw Brecel seriously considered as a winner this year was his quarter final win over Ronnie O’Sullivan where he trailed 10-6 to the Rocket but rattled off seven frames in succession to land the win.

In defeat, O’Sullivan claimed that he loved watching Brecel play and that he hoped he would go on to win the World title.

The semi-final saw another incredible comeback as Brecel pulled back a nine-frame deficit to defeat Chinese qualifier Si Jiahui 17-15 but in the final, he led from the very beginning before beating 4-time World Snooker Champion Mark Selby 18-15.

Selby shared the top break prize with Kyren Wilson after both made 147 breaks in this year’s Championship, Selby being the first to do so in the World Championship Final.

They will take home an equal share of both the £40,000 bonus prize for the 147, and the £15,000 prize for the highest break in the tournament.

Brecel’s win saw him earn a career best £500,000 and boosted him to second in the world rankings.

It was a fitting end to an exciting and unusual snooker season and no doubt will lay the foundations for the 2023/24 season to be even more exciting.

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