Underdogs learn to bite

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Snooker's first authentic world cup at the Amari Watergate Hotel here has provided some lessons for the good and the great of the game.

Scotland - fielding the world No 1, Stephen Hendry, No 2, John Higgins, and No 6, Alan McManus - are expected to meet England - with Peter Ebdon, No 3, Nigel Bond, No 5, and Ronnie O'Sullivan, No 8 - in next Sunday's final, with the winners on pounds 35,000 a man. But there are some unusual factors to consider.

Players tend to take fewer risks for a team than they do for themselves and all the stopping and starting of one-frame matches tends to minimise differences in class. There is also general agreement that almost all the virtual unknowns here are of much better standard than expected.

Some giant-killing dreams have been fulfilled. On Friday, the Belgian trio, Bjorn Haneveer, Mario Geudens and Patrick Delsemme, beat the No 4 seeds, Northern Ireland (Joe Swail, Dennis Taylor and Terry Murphy) 5-4 to put themselves in contention for a quarter-final place. With one match each to play and only frames counting, the Republic of Ireland lead group A with 17, from Northern Ireland, on 15, and Belgium, 13.

The Republic's world No 7, Ken Doherty, spent Friday in bed with an infected throat, an upset stomach and a glandular fever. He lost his first two frames as Northern Ireland led 5-1. With Taylor leading 57-0, 6-1, a potential drubbing loomed.

But Fergal O'Brien cleared with 71 to snatch this frame on the black. This proved a tide-turner as Doherty and Stephen Murphy narrowed the Republic's losing margin to 5-4.

While Taylor was losing seven of his nine frames, another great name of the Eighties, Cliff Thorburn, was winning eight out of nine for Canada. Jim Wych, twice a world quarter-finalist but also semi-retired, is the only undefeated player after playing nine frames. Alain Robidoux, their world No 14, has won six and Canada's frame count of 23-4 means they have already qualified from group B whatever happens against Scotland tonight.

Wales comfortably lead group D while England, who beat James Wattana's Thailand 6-3 yesterday, lead group C with 19.Thailand and China are level on 13. Pakistan, whose top player, the Accrington born and bred Shokat Ali, has won five out of six, are on 11 with a match in hand.