For at least the second time this year, a European joining of forces has beaten the United States of America at a sport they’re believed to be pretty darn good at. This sport is a million miles away from the riches and fame that is bestowed upon the golfer’s vying for the Ryder Cup. No, this time, Europe has triumphed at the modest barroom game of pool in the 2012 Mosconi Cup.
Once a stomping ground of the world’s best snooker players, having seen the likes of Ronnie O’Sullivan, Jimmy White and Steve Davis enhance the sport’s reputation, the Mosconi Cup is the key date in the pool calendar that gets any attention at all. Created by, and televised by Sky Sports, the competition was originally an exhibition event designed to get the people of Britain interested in the game. It obviously worked, as it can be pretty tough going attempting to find a pub in England that doesn’t have a pool table lined with spare change. The international form may look different, with its “solids and stripes” but the essence is the same, from pub to professional.
Now that entrants for the Mosconi Cup need to have played throughout the season to be selected, the veterans of snookers have stepped aside and pool’s finest champions have the chance to claim glory for their continent. No stranger to this feeling of victory is Darren Appleton, making his fourth Mosconi appearance this year in Bethnal Green’s York Hall. The multiple champion was joined by Chris Melling, two-time winner of the trophy and this year’s most valuable player thanks to his three solo wins, twice against America’s Brandon Shuff.
Their continued brilliance and experience is still shadowed by the Dutch contingent of Europe, represented by Niels Feijen and Nick Van Den Berg who, between them, have made twelve appearances at this highest intercontinental level. With debutant Nick Ekonomopoulos from Greece making it five, Europe were ready to defend their title – the continent have now won the event three times in a row and five times in six, a far cry from USA’s ultimate dominance from 1996 to 2001.
The road to retaining the trophy was never smooth. The Americans took the first day in their stride, winning the initial team competition before Melling and Appleton both failed in their doubles quest. A timely 5-2 win for Appleton against Shuff, a man forced to endure a horror show of form this week, ensured that Europe went into the second day only one behind. The next day’s play was a total reverse, with Appleton losing two more doubles games, including the first with Melling. At the halfway mark, 5-5 seemed about fair.
Wednesday saw the floodgates open with Europe taking the day 4-1. Appleton capped off the evening in stunning style with a 5-0 thrashing of South Dakota’s Shane Van Boening. As the action moved into the final day of singles, nobody was prepared for Europe’s capitulation at the hands of the ruthless Team USA. Ekonomopoulos, Feijen and Appleton all lost their fixtures and heavily; between the three of them, Europe scored only 5 legs to USA’s 15. With the scores level again, Chris Melling kept his cool and scored his third straight solo win. A 5-2 victory for Van Den Berg against Mike Dechaine led to frenzied celebrations in the hall as Europe won once again. A close shave perhaps, but a fitting conclusion to a close week.
It may never get the same reception that the prestigious Ryder Cup receives but, to Messrs Appleton and Melling, it means just as much. Melling’s MVP award showed what he still has in his locker despite a mixed year and his decisive wins were what allowed Europe to hold onto that trophy for another year. Not a chance for BBC Sports Personality of the Year team award, but they’ll be ecstatic with what they’ve already got, thank you very much.