Michael van Gerwen produced an inspired comeback to stun World Champion Gary Anderson and retain his European Championship title in Hasselt.
The Dutchman trailed 10-7 and appeared on the brink of defeat, but he produced spectacular darts to win the last four legs to complete an extraordinary triumph.
It was an astonishing final. There were 17 180’s and 26 140’s hit in twenty-one legs of pulsating action, as Michael averaged a mightily impressive 107.28 to prevail in the greatest final in this competition’s history.
Anderson held throw in the opening leg after van Gerwen missed 3 darts to break, but the Dutchman responded impressively, taking out 76 to level up proceedings.
The World Champion regained the lead in leg three, before MvG came agonisingly close to hitting a perfect 9-darter. He hit eight perfect darts, but his ninth and decisive dart fell millimetres below the D12 wire.
Ando led 3-2 at the break, but van Gerwen claimed the lead for the first time in the encounter, by holding throw and then securing a valuable break of throw with a tremendous 91 checkout.
However, van Gerwen’s boisterous celebrations appeared to antagonise the 44-year-old Scot, who broke back instantly with an 11-darter courtesy of an 85 checkout.
The World Number 2 then cemented this break of throw with a clinical 88 checkout, before van Gerwen was punished for one missed dart at D20 as Anderson moved two legs clear.
Anderson won his fourth straight leg to establish a 7-4 advantage, but van Gerwen managed to stop the rot with a two-dart 71 checkout. Despite this, Gary was enjoying a remarkable dominance on throw; after van Gerwen failed to convert an 82 finish, Anderson moved 8-5 ahead.
Van Gerwen remained in touch with a classy ton-plus finish, but Anderson crucially held to lead 9-6 at the break. In the following leg, the Dutchman missed the bull for a breathtaking 164 finish, however he returned to reduce the deficit to 9-7.
Anderson moved to the cusp of victory with a sensational 101 checkout, but van Gerwen demonstrated precisely why he is World Number 1, maintaining his composure to convert a 78 finish for 10-8, before producing a nerveless 62 checkout to reduce the arrears to just one leg.
MvG produced a dominant leg on throw in leg 20, hitting D16 for a 13-darter to send this enthralling final into this last-leg decider that the standard merited.
Anderson began the leg with a meagre 43 and could only leave 134 after 12 darts. Van Gerwen was sat on 75 after 12 darts and showed absolutely no sign of nerves, nailing the finish in two-darts which provoked jubilant celebrations from the Green Machine.
Incredibly, this is the first ever major PDC title that the Dutchman has defended, and he demonstrated immense character to fightback from such an improbable position. Anderson was visibly devastated; he threw superbly throughout, but just lacked the killer instinct in the critical juncture of the contest.
Earlier in the evening, van Gerwen himself survived an astonishing fightback from Peter Wright to progress through to the final. Van Gerwen led 8-1 at one stage, but Wright reeled off six successive legs to scare the ‘Green Machine’.
It was an incredible contest; Wright was averaging 113 after five legs, but inexplicably found himself 5-0 down at the first interval, having missed one dart at the bull on three separate occasions.
Wright claimed his first leg of the semi-final in the sixth leg, but van Gerwen was unperturbed and stormed into a seemingly unassailable 8-1 advantage. Wright won the final leg before the second break courtesy of D2, but frailties on the doubles had cost Snakebite dearly, as he boasted a meagre checkout rate of 20%.
MvG was enjoying such dominance that he lost focus and to Wright’s credit, he continued to battle away and he slowly began to reduce the arrears. Suddenly, Wright was trailing by just two legs at 8-6, although the World Number 1 had the opportunity to stop the rot.
However, the 25-year-old from Boxtel appeared stunned by Wright’s fightback and he squandered three clear darts at D20, allowing the Scot to post D8 to move just 8-7 behind.
Wright, the 2014 World finalist, appeared poised to level up at 8-8 as he left 56 after just 9 darts on his own throw, but incredibly, he missed two big numbers in succession and subsequently didn’t have a dart at double.
The Green Machine exploited this unlikely opportunity, converting a routine 58 finish to regain his two-leg advantage and he didn’t relinquish control on this occasion. He scored incredibly in the final two legs, clinching the win with a sublime 10-darter.
In comparison, Gary Anderson’s progress to his first ever European Championship final was far more serene, as he won 9 out of 12 legs to end Adrian Lewis’s hopes of winning a second European Championship crown.
Lewis raced into a 2-0 advantage, converting a brilliant 149 finish in the opening leg, before capitalising on three missed darts from Anderson to break the throw. Nevertheless, the ‘Flying Scotsman’ was not affected in the slightest by those missed doubles.
He produced successive ton-plus finishes of 116 and 113 to restore parity, before finishing 199 in just four darts to establish a 3-2 lead at the break.
The Scotsman was in electrifying form and produced a 13-dart hold, before securing another valuable break with a clinical two-dart 100 finish. He took a commanding 7-3 lead into the interval, but Anderson was averaging 107, so Lewis was faced with an ominous task.
Lewis took 11 legs to hit his first 180, but suddenly there was a flurry of maximums, with the World Number 2 threatening the 9-darter, but his seventh dart at T20 was agonisingly above the top wire.
The decisive blow was struck in the 15th leg, where Jackpot was poised to reduce the arrears to 9-6, but Anderson posted a stunning 121 checkout to move just one leg away from the final.
Lewis missed D20 for a 148 checkout which would have prolonged the contest, allowing Anderson to return and hit D10 to clinch a comprehensive victory with a 106 average.
Nevertheless, the bragging rights tonight ultimately belong to Michael van Gerwen. The final was an absolutely thrilling spectacle between the best two players in World Darts.
The match was played at a rip-roaring pace and the standard was absolutely astronomical. You would be inclined to think that both men will be contesting a lot more major finals in the near future! Congratulations MvG; commiserations Gary.