Snooker: Young Brecel set to shine in Crucible spotlight

Luca Brecel will become the youngest player to appear in a World Championship on Sunday but the precocious Belgian insists that he can handle the spotlight.

At the age of 17 years and 43 days, Brecel will tackle Scotland’s 31-year-old world No 7 Stephen Maguire. But, after seeing off four experienced players to survive the qualifying competition, Brecel heads to the Crucible with soaring confidence.

And he said: “The bigger the occasion, the better I seem to handle it.”

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Brecel, who left school at 14 to be home-tutored, has never previously qualified for a major ranking event but he beat four established names in Ian McCulloch, Barry Pinches, Michael Holt and Mark King to earn his place in Sheffield.

Although Maguire represents altogether tougher opposition, snooker’s new boy wonder will relish what will surely be the first of many visits to the World Championship.

Brecel was filmed making a nine-minute maximum break as a 12-year-old and Belgium believes it has bred a future Crucible winner. Brecel himself has no doubt, saying after his victory over King: “I believe I can be a future world champion.”

The teenager’s English coach Chris Henry, who hails from Accrington, steered Peter Ebdon towards the 2002 world title and has in recent years been working closely with Stephen Hendry.

Hendry was quick to contact Henry on Sunday, keen to know if Brecel had broken his Crucible age record. In 1986, Hendry was 17 years and three months old when he made his debut, losing to Willie Thorne.

Being a fluent Flemish speaker is a benefit to Bruges-based Henry and he said: “I’ve been working with Luca on and off for six or seven years. His temperament for snooker is perfect.

“We organised an exhibition with Stephen Hendry. Stephen said afterwards, ‘I have never seen anybody walk into a room of 700-800 people all shouting, looking like he was just at home in his living room’. Stephen said he has something very special.”

That match was played in January 2010 and Brecel, 14 at the time and the European Under-19 champion, won it 4-1.