Our Chris Hammer previews the ninth staging of the BetVictor World Cup of Darts, which runs from Thursday until Sunday in Hamburg, and picks out his best bets.
BetVictor World Cup of Darts: Recommended bets
One of the great sporting World Cups takes place this week as 64 darts players representing 32 nations come together in Hamburg - and there's certainly no tongue in cheek with that statement either.
Unlike many other World Cups, this one doesn't linger around for a month before petering out to an anti-climatic conclusion (unless your country is still involved) - or, in cricket's case, a lot longer - as it packs all of it's drama, entertainment, team spirit and national pride into four action-packed days. What's not to love?
The pairs format on the big televised stage also makes a refreshing change from the usual individual tournaments although I have to say I'd prefer more guaranteed doubles matches after the first round where the shocks are never in short supply.
In the second round, quarters and semi-finals, of course, teams can progress 2-0 virtue of two singles victories, with the doubles match only required for a deciding rubber.
But enough of my minor gripe, who's going to be lifting that trophy on Sunday night?
England the 'real' favourites?
Netherlands head the betting to be crowned world champions for the third year in a row and for a fifth time overall but if they do triumph it'll be the first without Raymond van Barneveld, who has been leapfrogged in the world rankings by Jermaine Wattimena.
The fast-throwing Machine Gun takes his place alongside Michael van Gerwen, who admits his new team-mate deserves a spot based on his form compared to the struggling - albeit legendary - Barney.
Wattimena, who gave Gary Anderson an unbelievable scare in that epic World Championship clash back in December, has reached a ProTour final in 2019 as well as three quarter-finals so he shouldn't be considered too much of a weak link in this side but even so, I wouldn't want to back them at such a short price.
As readers of my betting previews will know, I'm prefer opposing MVG in most tournaments anyway as there's clear vulnerabilities in his game these days and more players than ever believe they can beat him.
I know that sounds a bit harsh on the world champion, who has won eight tournaments this season including a fifth successive Premier League title last month, but we've all seen him look ordinary more than usual and I wouldn't be surprised if he's unable to drag a world number 23 over the line if they come up against a nation with two stars.
At least with Barney they would have known each others game inside out and have a long established history of working well as a team.
They have a tricky opener against the Spanish duo of Cristo Reyes and Toni Alcinas, who might be worth a small flutter at 5/1 to cause a shock on Friday night, before a potential clash with Krzysztof Ratajski's Poland while Australia, represented by Simon Whitlock and Kyle Anderson, are also in their quarter.
If they get as far in the semi-finals then they will quite possibly come up against the nation I personally think should be favourites - England.
Only these two countries have tasted World Cup glory in the previous eight years although neither Rob Cross nor Michael Smith have contributed to any of England's four titles, understandably, with Bully Boy making his debut and Voltage appearing for just the second time.
Neither have they managed to win an individual tournament on the stage or floor this season, but nobody can deny Cross has been one of the outstanding players performance-wise this season and in the 17 events he's entered, he's reached three finals - including the UK Open and Premier League - and three semis.
During the regular season of the Premier League, he won the same amount of games as MVG with 10, his legs difference of +26 underlined his dominance in many games and he averaged over 100 more times than anyone with 10.
He was too strong for James Wade in the semi-finals but ultimately came up short against MVG for the fifth time in a row this season when the title was on the line.
Michael Smith hasn't had such a good season results wise but as he was quick to point out ahead of his World Cup debut, his scoring in the Premier League was on point with plenty of high averages but it was sloppy finishing that let him down.
I think that was probably exacerbated as the season wore on after a bad start because every match seemed to be played with the pressure of it being 'last chance saloon' rather than in 2018 when his head was well above water.
We'll see the real Bully Boy over the next four days, especially given he's spent the last couple of weeks playing lots of pairs matches to get himself ready for the format.
I'll go into the danger of the first round further down but England do face a difficult test against the Philippines duo of Lourence Ilagan and Noel Malicdem first up while Austria (Mensur Suljovic & Zoran Lerchbacher) and Republic of Ireland (Steve Lennon & William O'Connor) are also in their quarter.
Bottom half dangers?
According to the odds and the world rankings, you can expect Scotland's Gary Anderson and Peter Wright to come up against the Welsh team of Gerwyn Price and Jonny Clayton in the semi-finals, but I'm not sure it's going to be that simple.
Although Anderson and Wright reached the final last year and their team spirit seemed more harmonious than usual, they've had their fair share of upsets down the years, including that shock defeat to Singapore in 2017.
Individually this season, Wright has been inconsistent at best this season and he'll be the first to say how disappointing his results and performances have been for much of the season.
Anderson has yet to show his best form in his five appearances this year as he continues his steady comeback from injury so you have to question whether their odds of 4/1 are too short.
Wales are undeniably strong, led by the box office pantomime villain, although they'll have the crowd against them when they come up against Paul Lim and Harith Lim on Thursday night.
Survive that test and you'd fancy them to get past Gibraltar or Japan in round two, but after that it could well be the dangerous Northern Ireland.
The sixth seeds, comprising of the in-form Daryl Gurney and Brendan Dolan, face South African duo Devon Petersen and Vernon Bouwers first up and will also be favourites to see off New Zealand or Lithuania.
Gurney has been fantastic this season, doing the double over Michael van Gerwen in the Premier League en route to reaching the Play-Offs for the first time, and also landing his first ever European Tour title.
SuperChin still doesn't quite believe he's ranked as high as four in the world but he'll need to play to his best alongside Dolan, who has dipped out of form since reaching the World Championship quarter-finals against the odds.
Nevertheless the World Cup has brought the best out of the History Maker in recent years, twice reaching the semi-finals alongside Mickey Mansell (2014) and Gurney (2016), losing to Netherlands and England respectively.
In the past two years Gurney and Dolan have lost thrilling ties with German duo Max Hopp and Martin Schindler, who I'm going to side with in the third quarter of the draw.
The young pairing, who open up against Hungary before a potential meeting with Dimitri van den Bergh and Kim Huybrechts of Belgium, have reached the quarter-finals in their previous two attempts together, losing to MVG and Barney on both occasions, and they certainly know how to deal with the pressure of playing to the home crowd.
Hopp in particular revels in it.
The 22-year-old won his first senior PDC title in the German Darts Open last year, beating both Rob Cross and Michael Smith in the semis and final respectively with 121 checkouts on the bullseye in deciding legs.
Since then, he picked up another PDC title in August as well as reaching the European Championship semi-final on home soil, agonisingly losing out to eventual champion James Wade after missing three match darts.
This year the former World Youth champion suffered that Premier League nightmare against Barney in Berlin but he did reach the German Darts Grand Prix semis before Simon Whitlock pipped him 7-6 after two match darts were spurned in a decider.
On very recent form, Hopp reached the Players Championship 16 final last month, losing a deciding leg to Harry Ward, so he should be feeling pretty confident.
Schindler hasn't taken his game to the next level in the same way Hopp has and is struggling to string a consistent string of performances together right now, but he's definitely got potential.
Where will the first-round shocks come?
The World Cup of Darts has seen plenty of upsets down the years - not least in the inaugural edition when Spain upset Phil Taylor and James Wade!
They were ranked one and two in the world at the time and led 4-2 but somehow Spain's Toni Alcinas and Carlos Rodriguez fought back to win a deciding leg in 11 darts before going on to reach the semi-finals, where they lost to Netherlands.
The only time the Netherlands haven't reached the semi-finals or better was back in 2013 when Michael van Gerwen and Raymond van Barneveld shockingly crashed out to Finland's Jarko Komula and Jani Haavisto.
But as mentioned earlier, they could indeed find the going tough against 5/1 Spain on Friday night.
The format for the first round is dangerously short - just one doubles match, best of nine legs - and this makes upsets more likely.
Another huge upset came in 2017 when the ageless and ever popular Paul Lim inspired Singapore to an incredible victory over Scotland, who were represented by world's number two and three at the time - Gary Anderson and Peter Wright.
The Scotsmen had a frosty relationship back then to say the least - which highlights the importance of having a strong team spirit in this event - and it was the second time they suffered an upset having also lost to South Africa in 2012.
Scotland did reach the final in 2018 but could they be at risk of losing to 7/1 Denmark on opening night?
As for Singapore, they are priced at 5/1 to see off Wales which again looks pretty big considering the format is only first to five legs.
I've sided with England to go all the way but that's not a case of underestimating PDC Asian Tour stars Lourence Ilagan & Noel Malicdem, who both impressed many viewers during the the World Championship.
There are simply no guarantees at the start of a World Cup, even though by the end of it, the cream tends to rise to the top.