Two tungsten titans with 21 world titles between them renew their fascinating rivalry on darts’ greatest stage as Phil Taylor meets Raymond van Barneveld in a mouth-watering Semi-Final show-down on Saturday night.
Both have survived multiple scares en route to the penultimate stage of the competition, but now the gloves are off as they prepare to write the next chapter in the sport’s greatest rivalry.
Second seed Taylor has reiterated his desire to regain this crown and has suggested it could be his last realistic chance to add to his tally, and after altering his darts midway through the competition, the 54-year-old has even more cause for optimism.
While ‘The Power’ has not been at his vintage best up to this stage, he holds the highest tournament average and has made a career out of peaking at the right times.
Taylor has coasted past Germany’s Jyhan Artut and Welsh ace Mark Webster, before edging through gruelling battles against Kim Huybrechts and Vincent van der Voort en route to this stage.
Ominously for Barney, Taylor has never lost in a World Championship Semi-Final across 19 appearances and now looks to further dent Holland’s hopes of another World Champion and remain on a collision course for a final meeting with Michael van Gerwen.
Five-time World Champion Van Barneveld, meanwhile, has dug deep and demonstrated his true fighting qualities with three consecutive deciding set victories over Jamie Caven, Adrian Lewis and Stephen Bunting to follow his opening round rout of Rowby-John Rodriguez.
A new-look Barney has marked a welcome return to form after a torrid run of results in recent months, and the Dutch legend is out to remain on course for a sweet sixth world title to eclipse Eric Bristow’s haul.
There was little expectation of 50/1 outsider Barney before a dart was thrown, with the 47-year-old’s immediate priority to go some way towards protecting his top 16 status by defending the £50,000 in prize money earned from his run to the semis here two years ago.
Questions will be raised over the 47-year-old’s energy levels after he came through a late-night thriller against an emotional Bunting on Friday and notably emerged wearing glasses midway through the game.
Van Barneveld ended a seven-year wait for a ‘Power cut’ in front of the television cameras when he defeated Taylor in last May’s Premier League Semi-Finals, and will be desperate to repeat the dose on his nemesis tonight.
It’s almost two years to the day since the pair contested a classic Semi-Final on this stage, which saw Barney battle back from 5-1 down to 5-4, before Taylor closed out a dramatic triumph, leading to an ill-tempered clash between the pair on stage in the following moments.
Incredibly, this will be the 67th meeting between the veteran duo, and unsurprisingly, it’s Taylor who has enjoyed the lion’s share of the head-to-heads with 50 victories to van Barneveld’s 12, as well as four draws.
Among Taylor’s notable triumphs include the 1999 Champion v Champion, the 2009 World Championship final and multiple other major finals, while van Barneveld’s finest hour came in the epic 2007 final at the Circus Tavern – where he came from 3-0 down to claim a nail-biting 7-6 sudden death success.
Either reigning World Champion and world number one Michael van Gerwen or 2011 finalist and fourth seed Gary Anderson will await the winner in Sunday’s show-piece final.
The match gets underway at around 9.15pm GMT and will be played over the best of eleven sets (best of three legs per set) from the Alexandra Palace in London.
“Malice at the palace” as tempers flare between the two in 2012 (Photo by Ben Hoskins/Getty Images)
Taylor: “You need a battle and you’re going to get them during the tournament, but I’ve got to push on now. I’ve got to improve, and I will do.”
“I think Barney has been remarkable this week. I love him to bits and whoever has got a ticket is in for a treat. If I wasn’t a player, I’d pay to watch it!”
Van Barneveld: “I’m so proud to be back in the semi-finals again.
“Like last night, I’ll be fighting for my life in the semi-finals. I’m not afraid and I like to play Phil; he’s amazing and you know what you have to do to beat him.”
Live Darts verdict:
The first two sets are likely to prove crucial in terms of van Barneveld’s chances of switching of ‘The Power’ at the palace. Should Barney fall behind early on, his mental frailties could come to the fray, but hit the front and the belief will intensify.
The long-awaited win over Taylor in the Premier League play-offs will have helped to remove Barney’s mental barrier when it comes to facing his nemesis, but he now runs into an opponent gunning for a 17th world title.
The Dutchman is more than capable of outscoring his opponent, but can ill-afford to miss key chances at doubles, with Taylor renowned as the sport’s greatest ever front-runner.
On current form, Barney looks like running Taylor close, with a fourth consecutive last-set decider not out of the question for the Hague legend, but Taylor’s willpower and clinical edge should see him through.
Our top three betting tips:
- Taylor to win and both players to win three or more sets @ 11/10 with William Hill
- Van Barneveld + 2.5 sets handicap @ 6/5 with Boylesports
- Van Barneveld to hit the most 180s @ 8/13 with Ladbrokes
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