Luca Brecel has become the first player from mainland Europe to win the Cazoo World Championship in a historic final against four-time champion Mark Selby. The 28-year-old Belgian displayed a unique natural flair and remarkable calmness under pressure, relying on flamboyant shot-making to secure an 18-15 victory.
Brecel’s win was all the more remarkable given that he had never won a match at the Crucible before this tournament, having lost in the first round on his first five appearances at the venue. However, he came within a frame of first-round defeat before securing a 10-9 victory over Ricky Walden, which inspired him to do bigger and better things.
After knocking out the all-time great Ronnie O’Sullivan in the quarter-finals, Brecel made a record comeback in the semi-finals, coming from 14-5 down to beat Si Jiahui 17-15. He saved his best for the final, producing a fabulous third session in which he made four centuries to pull away from 9-8 and lead 15-10. He then overcame a master of matchplay in Selby, who was the heavy favorite going into the final.
Overall, Brecel contested 131 frames during the tournament, a new record for the champion. His stylish game and affable personality are hoped to make him a role model for sport in Belgium, which already has two promising rookies in Ben Mertens and Julien LeClercq.
Brecel becomes the 22nd player to lift the famous trophy at the Crucible and only the fourth non-British champion, after Canada’s Cliff Thorburn, Ireland’s Ken Doherty, and Australia’s Neil Robertson. It is his fourth ranking title and second of the season, having won the Championship League at the start of the campaign. The top prize of £500,000 is by far the biggest of his career, and it boosts him from tenth to second in the world rankings, behind only O’Sullivan who finishes the season as world number one.
The road to the top has been long and winding for Brecel, who was recognized as a prodigy during his early teens, especially when a video of him making a 147 in practice emerged on YouTube. At 17, he became the youngest player to make a Crucible debut, but it took him four more years to break into the world’s top 32. There were opinions from outside Brecel’s inner circle that he would not rise to the top unless he moved from Belgium to the UK. However, his family, particularly his father Carlo, made huge sacrifices in terms of time, travel, and finance to allow his career to flourish.
Brecel has done it his own way, insisting that he never wanted to move to the UK. In fact, he drives through the night in between matches to spend time in Belgium with his new girlfriend Laura. He also claims that he doesn’t practice, which would make him an unorthodox student for any coach. However, he has found a way to compete with total freedom, uninhibited by fear, which is something that every player strives for.
Selby missed out on becoming only the fourth player, after O’Sullivan, Stephen Hendry, and Steve Davis, to lift the trophy five times at the Crucible. The 39-year-old from Leicester had won his last four finals in 2014, 2016, 2017, and 2021, but fell 3-0 behind this time and was never quite able to get back on level terms. Scoring a momentous 147 in the 16th frame on Sunday evening was a consolation, but it’s silverware that Selby craves. The 22-time ranking event