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|Finland's Makkonen (left) and Immonen braved a hellish draw to claim the World Cup of Pool.
Story by Nicholas Leider; photos by Carina Altomonte Matchroom Sport
SINCE THE World Cup of Pool debuted in 2006, the two-player team event has grown into one of the most anticipated events on the tournament calendar. Bringing 32 teams from around the world into a single-elimination bracket, the Matchroom Sport event is rarely short on high drama. But the final scene of the event usually features a noted pool power - think the Philippines, Germany or the United States - lifting the trophy and taking home the oversized check. Even China's two victories, which had them slotted as the eighth-seeded squad, were hardly shocking, considering the country's booming cue-sporting scene.
The 2012 World Cup - held Sept. 4-9 at Robinson's Place in Manila, Philippines - was a perfect example of David vs. Goliath by the time it wound down to the final four. But this time, the underdogs - 16th-seeded Finland and 10th-seeded Poland - had their way. In the end, the Finnish duo of 24-year-old Petri Makkonen, along with established superstar Mika Immonen, outlasted Karol Skowerski and Wojciech Szewcyk for a 10-8 victory. Capping an amazing run through an incredibly tough bracket, Finns netted a total payday of $60,000. And while the crown is yet another for Immonen's impressive resume, Makkonen was left in awe of his first major win.
"It feels absolutely great. It hasn't sunk in yet, it will later," said Makkonen. "I can't describe it. Every match before, Mika shot the last 9 ball. But this game I shot the last 9 and that was great. That was the greatest moment of my career."
Apparently a perfect mix of seasoning and youthful confidence, the Finns appeared much more comfortable in their second year together, after Makkonen replaced Markus Juva in 2011.
"I told Petri if I tell you something just trust it, and that can take the pressure off you," Immonen said. "He's a great shot-maker and he took the pressure so well. Now he can say that he's been there and done that."
But before the pair could even think about atoning for Finland's 2007 second-place finish to China, they had to survive a few rough matches in the early stages. They first squared off against Korea's Ryu Seung Woo and Lee Wan Su. While the Koreans jumped out to a 4-0 lead in the winner-breaks race to 8, Finland remained calm and slowly worked themselves back into the match. They evened the score at 6-6 and, with the Koreans on edge, closed out the set, 8-6.
Up next, they squared off against Germany, both the event's top seed and its reigning champion. The powerful duo of Thorsten Hohmann and Ralf Souquet worked themselves halfway to a spot in the quarterfinals, grabbing a 4-3 lead. But the Finns tied the set and then cleared the next three from the break to get on the hill, 7-3. An errant position play from Souquet gave the Finns the final rack and a spot in the final eight.
"We broke better than them and that was huge," Immonen said. "I could see they were struggling. Their break was all over the place and that put a lot of pressure on them. Petri is coming along great and he made some great shots. We are working as a unit, we just KO'd the defending champions and we can do anything."
Not short on confidence, Finland again met a tandem of superstars, this time squaring off against Francisco Bustamante and Efren Reyes. Flipping the script, though, Finland jumped out to an early lead, never looking in doubt en route to a 9-5 victory and a spot in the semifinals.
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