The coveted snooker World Cup has every chance of returning to British hands when it concludes at the weekend. England have looked strong in the opening days and Wales look set to challenge them but who can rule out hosts China with two talented teams.
Trump and Hawkins looking strong
Registering on the snooker calendar for the 15th season, England have not reached the final since Steve Davis, Jimmy White and Neal Foulds took them to a second consecutive crown in 1989. Yet Judd Trump and Barry Hawkins have set their stall out in the opening games, winning 13 frames and losing just two as they cruised past Switzerland, Malta and Iran.
Despite losing to Malta, Australia look set to join England in the top two qualifying positions of the group as Neil Robertson leads the way. Yet Iran can put pressure on the 1989 finalists if they can defeat Australia in their next game before a crunch clash against Malta that could see either side overturn Australia's current three-point advantage.
Day continues excellent early season form
With two 5-0 victories, Wales have also collated 13 points to match the opening record of their neighbours. Riga Masters champion Ryan Day and Mark Williams have looked in great touch with the former contributing the highest break of the tournament thus far with a 140.
Back in the days of Ray Reardon and Terry Griffiths, Wales dominated the competition with four appearances in the final of the event after just five seasons. Yet the real test of their credentials this year will be when they face reigning champions Zhou Yuelong and Yan Bingtao of China on Thursday. Both teams look set to qualify, though Brazil are just two and four points behind China and Wales respectively.
Strength in depth for hosts China
China are the only country to have two teams in the competition and their 'number one' side is ranked higher than the current holders of the trophy. Ding Junhui and Liang Wenbo have impressed on home cloth as expected, sitting level on points with Luca Brecel's Belgium before the teams meet on Thursday. Marco Fu's Hong Kong are set to pounce on any slip-ups as they harness a position just three points behind.
The tightest group of the competition sees four teams separated by just two points after three matches. Mark Allen and Joe Swail lead the way with Northern Ireland, followed by John Higgins and Anthony McGill just one point behind for Scotland. They are closely followed by surprise packages India and Thailand who meet on Thursday at the same time as Scotland vs Northern Ireland. The outcome of that group looks set to become a lot clearer after an intriguing penultimate set of fixtures.