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World Cup of Darts is now an important part of darts appeal and a tournament everyone wants to win
Scotland claimed the World Cup of Darts trophy but there were plenty of winners in an event going from strength to strength
Last Updated: 17/06/19 7:09pm
Like a lot of what has happened in darts over the last 10 years, the World Cup has exploded. Paul Prenderville was in Hamburg to witness the latest step in the sport's bid to continue its growth as a global game.
Much like the Premier League has gone from Carlisle's Sands Centre to the Mercedes-Benz Arena in Berlin, the World Cup of Darts has gone from the Rainton Meadows Arena in Durham to Barclaycard Arena in the cosmopolitan city of Hamburg.
Both moves are evidence of a sport that continues to go places but more than that, in Germany this week there were signs of how much this event now means to players, fans, and families.
With the women's football World Cup and the Cricket World Cup ongoing, and the Netball World Cup also in England (Liverpool) in July, even in darts, it shouldn't be underestimated how much it now means to play for your country.
"This is now a huge event. It's prestigious and it's growing and growing," said Sky Sports expert Wayne Mardle.
"Back in the day, countries may have been represented by two players happy to give it a go but now they are trying to win. Now Canada, Italy, Japan, Singapore - they are all sending world class players.
"The format is exciting, it works and the standard now is incredible - better than ever."
As well as a sense of pride, there is now a chance to win for your country. Major semi-finals or quarter-finals may have been beyond some players, but not now.
The final was a perfect example. The Republic of Ireland's unheralded pair of Steve Lennon and William O'Connor may never reach another TV final having knocked out superstar teams of the Netherlands and England along the way. It was headline news on the Emerald Isle.
O'Connor has represented the Republic of Ireland on eight previous occasions - never going beyond the second round - but he teamed up with Steve Lennon as they became the first unseeded team to reach a final.
Scotland, in the shape of Gary Anderson and Peter Wright, have two of the finest players in the world. And they finally ended their wait for a long overdue title and with it, underlined the change in approach from players.
It wasn't always that way. The pair took their time to gel, but have reached the last two finals and made no secret over the week of their desire to win, while also aiming the occasional dig at England and the Netherlands.
Therein lies more evidence of the growth - pride in wearing your national shirt.
Michael Smith almost made himself ill last year trying to overhaul Dave Chisnall In the qualification stakes to represent for England. This year, he teamed up with Rob Cross and while quarter-final defeat was a surprise, Smith waxed lyrical about the opportunity.
"I can't wait," Smith told the Darts Show Podcast last month.
"It was the one tournament I wanted last year and I was only one win away from it but Chizzy [Dave Chisnall] just managed to scrape in.
"I've never represented my country in anything before so I just can't wait to get out there."
Go a little further down the darts food chain and the stories are the same. This week Russia's Boris Koltsov admitted he felt like crying after he and his partner missed a glorious chance to beat Austria in the first round.
Perhaps the biggest sign of the sport's worldwide expansion came when South Africa beat a Northern Ireland team including Daryl Gurney in the first round. Captain Devon Peterson shared a video on social media on Friday morning of youth players in his homeland going delirious before a match of their own.
Peterson is a fine ambassador for his sport as well as his country and he joined the Sky Sports team on stage Friday night to talk about what it means but also he plans to put together an African Tour.
"Sport brings a country together so it was a monumental win not just for me and Vernon [Bouwers] but for darts in Africa," he said.
"[The children in the video] watched the game before they went to the league, so it was like a talk for them.
"They practice with me when I am back home and it's about exposing the youth to the sport and the celebration almost brought tears to my eyes."
The PDC have already introduced a wealth of supplementary Pro Tours - Australia, EuroAsia, the Nordic and Baltic region, and the US. There is also the burgeoning Asian Tour, where the legendary Paul Lim is still winning events.
"The world of darts has changed a lot. It's buzzing everywhere, in Asia especially. I'm so glad we have the PDC Asia Tour now," Lim told The Darts show podcast.
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"This World Cup is almost like a stepping stone for us. Our next tournament will be fighting for the World Championship at the end of the year, so the tour is just starting its sixth stage right now. The top players are all on the World Cup teams. There's nothing much between the top eight players in the PDC Asia Tour."
Japan backed up Lim's quotes, winning through to the last four for the first time after two previous appearances in the quarterfinals, Singapore, Hong Kong, and China were also in attendance to represent the Far East.
To be oche-side in Hamburg was to bear witness to some of the scenes that not everyone gets to see. German fans went bananas for Max Hopp and Martin Schindler, while pride was etched all over the face of Petersen's father who even had his own South Africa shirt.
For Belgium, Dimitri Van den Bergh embraced Kim Huybrechts' family, and Huybrechts followed suit. In the media room, the pair constantly spoke of their pride in the shirt.
"For me, it was an honour to represent Belgium but also to take Ronny [Huybrecths]'s place," 24-year-old Van den Bergh said.
"I've always loved to see Kim and Ronny play because I've seen them play so many pairs tournaments. That's something magical and that's why I stayed the year before to support them.
"It's incredible to see them play and the connection they have as brothers. That was always beautiful, so me taking Ronny's spot was not too easy but I've done my best to honour him."
It may not carry ranking points or the biggest prize pots (although a £35k winners cheque each is not to be scoffed at) but it offers something different.
It is a chance to represent your country- something that aspiring youngsters in any sport dream of from an early age. It is a dream that is now a possibility in darts thanks to the increasing importance of the World Cup, an event that now means something to a player's identity and pride.
You don't have to wait long until darts is back on Sky Sports with nine days of coverage from Blackpool and the World Matchplay. It starts on Saturday July 20 and the final is on Sunday July 28.