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Peter Wright sets up Michael Smith showdown at the European Championship

Peter Wright produced a monumental fightback to stun Gabriel Clemens and set up a second round showdown against World Champion Michael Smith on a pulsating first night of action in Dortmund.

The 2020 European champion trailed 4-1 against German number one Clemens, who delighted the partisan Dortmund crowd by racing into a three-leg lead with an impressive 102 average.

However, a mid-game change of darts sparked Wright into life, as the Scot – aided by a 116 finish in leg seven – levelled the contest at four apiece, before the pair exchanged holds to force a last-leg shoot-out.

Wright, 16/1 to lift the coveted trophy on Sunday, then triumphed in an astonishing final leg, following up back-to-back 180s with a two-dart 81 combination to prevail with an 11-dart break of throw.

“I was chasing Gabriel all the way through the game,” admitted Wright, who reverted back to a copy of Michael van Gerwen’s darts for the latter stages of the contest.

“Michael’s darts work alright under pressure! I had to dig as deep as I have in a long time, but I’m starting to believe in my own ability again. I’m not rolling over anymore, and if you want to beat me, you’ve got to play really well, because I can still play this game.”

The opening night of the £600,000 event saw eight first round matches take place at the Westfalenhalle, with world number one, and 13/2 tournament hopeful, Smith also impressing to set up a blockbuster Saturday afternoon clash against the Scot.

Michael Smith

The 33-year-old demolished Raymond van Barneveld 6-1 in his opener, as the five-time World Champion was blown away in his first European Championship appearance since 2015.

Smith won the game’s first two legs before Van Barneveld halved the deficit in 13 darts, although consecutive finishes of 107 and 86 midway through the tie broke the Dutchman’s resistance.

Smith’s St Helens counterpart Stephen Bunting also progressed by the same 6-1 scoreline, dispatching Clemens’ World Cup of Darts partner Martin Schindler with a 101 average.

The 20/1 shot delivered a stellar display to avenge his defeat to Schindler at the World Grand Prix, firing in three 180s, landing 121 and 104 checkouts and pinning six of his eight attempts at double.

However, top seed Dave Chisnall was unable to progress in Dortmund, as Masters champion Chris Dobey reeled off six straight legs from 2-0 down to claim victory, and shorten his title odds from 25/1 to 18/1 in the process.

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'Chizzy' squandered four darts for a 3-0 lead and was ruthlessly punished by Dobey, who produced 138 and 116 checkouts either side of a 12-darter in the latter stages.

“Once the first double went in I settled down but I seem to start slowly in best of 11 games,” conceded Dobey, a semi-finalist 12 months ago. “Dave’s a power scorer but he gave me too many chances and I took them. It’s nice when the big finishes go in like tonight and I’m happy to get that win.”

Danny Noppert, 9/2 to win the second quarter, produced the performance of the night in the tournament’s curtain-raiser, averaging 106 to whitewash Andrew Gilding in a battle between the most recent UK Open champions.

The Dutchman delivered a masterclass in combination finishing to book his place in round two, converting 90, 138, 81, 98, 89 and 64 checkouts to cap off a flawless display.

Two-time European Champion Rob Cross - a player that our resident darts expert Keith Deller believes could go the distance this weekend - brushed aside Belgium’s Dimitri Van den Bergh in emphatic style, averaging 99 and powering in a 127 finish on his way to a 6-2 success.

World Matchplay champion Nathan Aspinall - 17/2 to make Sunday's final - also impressed in his 6-3 victory against Ryan Searle, conjuring up 120 and 145 finishes to set up a tantalising last 16 showdown against Gerwyn Price.

Nathan Aspinall

“I needed that - it’s a massive win for me,” insisted Aspinall, who had lost his last six competitive games. “I have been struggling of late and my confidence had gone, and I knew I had a tough game against Ryan, so I’m very happy to get the win.

“I felt in control of that match from start to finish and my finishing was fantastic tonight. I’m relishing the next round against Gezzy now.”

Price - a winner of two European Tour titles in 2023 - breezed past a profligate Keane Barry inside 12 minutes, pinning six of his 11 darts at double to celebrate a 6-1 rout, and cement his status as the 4/1 second favourite.

The first round action will conclude on Friday evening, as reigning champion Ross Smith begins his title defence against recent German Darts Championship winner Ricardo Pietreczko - a clash in which features as part of Deller's Friday Night accumulator.

Four-time champion and 7/2 European Championship favourite Michael van Gerwen will open his title tilt against Latvia’s Madars Razma, the 9/2 match outsider, 2018 winner James Wade plays Dirk van Duijvenbode, while World Grand Prix champion Luke Humphries is the big 1/4 favourite against Brendan Dolan.

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Odds displayed were correct at the time of writing and subject to fluctuation.

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