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Carom Billiard - 3-Cushion - European Championship U25 - Los Alcázares (ESP)

Stef van Hees storms European top out of nowhere

Posted by on December 18, 2021

Stef van Hees storms European top out of nowhere

© Kozoom/Morgan Delame
The Belgian player Stef van Hees, former classic player, in five years to the junior top in three cushion

LOS ALCÁZARES - On the podium with Europe's best four young players are a Belgian, a Spaniard, an Austrian and a Turk this Sunday. The big French favorites are eliminated and the Germans have been sent home in the European under-25 three cushion Championship. The climax comes to an unexpected showdown. Who would have expected 1.80 meters long Belgian Stef van Hees or the much shorter Turk Muhammed Kilic at this gallery with the main talents? They are standing there together with Ivan Mayor from the homeland Spain and Nikolaus Kogelbauer from Austria in the Spanish arena on the final day. Missing are the names that were high up in the rankings when it came to title favorites, such as Gwendal Maréchal, Alessio D'Agata, Maxime Panaia, Tom Löwe and Simon Blondeel. They were all eliminated one by one on the field where great battles were fought in the run-up to the final day. The Spanish, who started with four, only have the champion, Ivan Mayor, left. The French lost all their contenders, as did the Germans, Danes, Dutch and Italians.

24-year-old Stef van Hees from Turnhout in Belgium can be a model for this championship of stunt matches and players. He is a billiard player who won many Belgian titles, but always in the classic games (free game, balk-line), and only five years ago started playing three cushion. ''I took some lessons from Jef Philipoom, the master in positional play and high runs, and from Johan Loncelle in bank shots. And look what happened: I'm one of the top players at this European championship.'' Without even good or long trainings. Stef van Hees is working as a prevention advisor, he works 8 hours a day, has a relation, but still lives with his mother. ''I am very busy in my life'', he assures us. ''I almost never train, only a few times half an hour per week. For this championship, I had to ask some days off from my boss.''

Stef van Hees was the undefeated winner of the group, ahead of Enzo Riquart and Tom Slikker, then won the first knock-out over Nick Rosier, his compatriot, and Saturday night in the quarterfinals over Maxime Panaia (40-30 in 32), the multiple European junior champion who had eliminated Gwendal Maréchal himself. Muhemmed Kilic is another player that real billiard fans did not know. Yet, out of the blue, the small, 22-year-old Turkish player from Istanbul, who was runner-up for his country in 2019, was the group winner at this 2019 European Championship with exactly 1,000 on average, then won over Nathan Duriez in the first knock-outs and in the quarter-finals over Simon Blondeel (40-37 in 43), certainly not the first German.

Two other finalists, who are much better known, are Ivan Mayor, 20 years old, child of the Spanish school, four times Spanish champion. And one year younger Nikolaus Kogelbauer, multiple Austrian junior champion, participant at the Lausanne Masters, determined to play all World Cups.

Ivan Mayor came from Simon Blondeel's group, won over Lukas Mortensen in the quarter-finals in a marathon of 57 innings and made it to the final in the match against Daniel Peña, his compatriot, whom he beat 40-24 in 29. And Nikolaus Kogelbauer was the best group winner, beating Enzo Riquart in a great finish and this Saturday night Alessio D'Agata, the Italian champion and one of the favorites, 40-36 in 43.

The matches for the semi-final, on Sunday:
9.00: Stef van Hees-Muhammed Kilic
11.30: Nikolaus Kogelbauer-Ivan Mayor
15.00: Final

Stef van Hees (right) and his feared opponent Maxime Panaia, whom he beat in the quarters

Nikolaus Kogelbauer (left) and another great junior player, Alessio D'Agata

Ivan Mayor (left), the only player from the homeland left, with Daniel Peña

The small Turkish player Muhammed Kilic (right) who beat Simon Blondeel

Best sixteen (1/8th finals)

The French clash in the first knockout phase came soon to rob the tournament of one of its main contenders. Gwendal Maréchal, sublime in his last group match, faced the French guy who is known as a born winner: Maxime Panaia, the four years younger player who already, at the age of 20, has five European titles on his record. The two rivals made it an exciting fight with a lot of tactical positional play and some misses back and forth due to the tension in the end. Panaia stayed cool in the end and finished with four: 40-32 in 28. The high favorite was defeated, actually for the second time in four matches.

Stef van Hees and Nick Rosier also played a similar country match, but then with one big favorite and one unexpected underdog. It was great for Nick Rosier, who's only 20 as well and plays for 'het Sleepbootje', that he reached the last sixteen after two losses, but it was his end. Stef van Hees was the strongest with 40-18 in 36.

One Italian, Alessio D'Agata, kept the strong German Tom Löwe under control at the end: 40-36, but in a moderate match, 47 innings. The other, almost unknown Italian, Emanuele Criscino, was trumped by another German, Simon Blondeel, 40-28 in 43 innings. Therefore, the battle of the countries remained undecided in this round.

The Turk Seymen Özbas, Maréchal's first conqueror, also had to leave the stage, defeated by Daniel Peña, the Spaniard who seems to be slowly growing in the tournament. The match was exciting to the bitter end: Peña finally triumphed 40-35 in 29. Muhemmed Kilic, also of Turkish blood, only less known, surprisingly defeated Nathan Duriez 40-28 in 52 innings. That was not even the longest match in this session. Ivan Mayor and Lukas Mortensen played for a fiercely sympathetic audience, with chances both ways, wonderful balls alternated with incomprehensible misses. And in the last minutes, with Ivan Mayor as the finisher: 40-35 in 57.

Finally, there was another title favorite mentioned by many. Austrian Nikolaus Kogelbauer, Dick Jaspers' teammate in his country, faced Enzo Riquart. Two of four Frenchmen had already stumbled on their way to the quarter-finals (Maréchal against Panaia, Duriez against Kilic). The fourth Frenchman could not make it either, as Kogelbauer was the better finisher in a hard-fought 40-38 in 38. But the French still can cheer for Panaia.

The results in the eighth finals:
Stef van Hees-Nick Rosier 40-18 in 35 (8/4)
Maxime Panaia-Gwendal Maréchal 40-32 in 28 (5/6)
Simon Blondeel-Emanuele Criscino 40-28 in 43 (3/4)
Muhemmed Kilic-Nathan Duriez 40-28 in 52 (5/3)
Alessio D'Agata-Tom Löwe 40-36 in 47 (6/4)
Ivan Mayor-Lukas Mortensen 40-
Nikolaus Kogelbauer-Enzo Riquart 40-38 in 38 (6/4)
Daniel Peña-Seymen Özbas 40-35 in 29 (4/5)

Maxime Panaia, winner in the French clash with Gwendal Maréchal

Stef van Hees, on his way to the final day at the Europeans

Nikolaus Kogelbauer, only 19, one of the main contenders

Spanish champion Ivan Mayor, surely cheered by his home fans on the final day


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