Powerhouse Philippine Squad in All Japan 9-ball Championship

Efren Reyes

The Philippines' acknowledged pool wizards Efren "Bata" Reyes winner of this year's World 8-Ball Championship and Francisco "Django" Bustamante, World Pool League champion who have been supported through the years by respected businessman-sportsman Aristeo "Putch" Puyat of Puyat Sports, lead a powerhouse squad in the All Japan 9-Ball Championship which opens at the Archaic Hall in Amagasaki Hyougo today.

With a top prize of over $20,000 the ten-man Philippine contingent which includes 2004 World Pool Champion Alex "The Lion" Pagulayan will battle the finest pool players in the world including a top class squad from perennial rivals Chinese-Taipei which will be anchored by 2000 World Pool Champion Fong Pang Chao, 2004 World Pool Championship runner-up Pei-Wei Chang, dangerous Hui-Kai Hsia and Kun-Fang Lee.

The European challenge will be spearheaded by 2001 World Pool Champion Mika "The Iceman" Immonen of Finland and German ace Ralf Souquet while Mexico's colorful Ismael Paez of Mexico is expected to be among the top contenders. South Korea's Young-Hwa Jeong and Shin-Young Park are also likely to figure prominently in the double elimination format where the winner breaks in a race-to- nine. The last 32 will be a knockout phase, race-to-eleven.

Aside from Reyes, Bustamante and Pagulayan, the Philippines bid for honors will be bolstered by recent Tokyo 9-Ball Champion Ramil "Bebeng" Gallego, rising stars Marlon Manalo who was runner-up to Reyes in the World 8-Ball Championships, Dennis Orcullo who was in the last 16 in the World Pool Championships in Taiwan and Warren Kiamco, a three-time runner –up in the San Miguel Asian 9-Ball Tour and touted veterans Rodolfo "Boy Samson" Luat and Antonio "Nikoy" Lining as well as Gandy Valle the 1998 Asian Games gold medallist.