World champion Luca Brecel says snooker in Europe is “going to explode” after becoming just the fourth non-British winner at the Crucible Theatre.
Brecel was in tears after holding off a Mark Selby fightback to win 18-15 and hopes the result can herald a new era.
Aside from Brecel, there are just four other players from mainland Europe in the top 100 of the world rankings.
“I was so nervous because I just wanted it to happen for Belgium and for Europe,” Brecel told BBC Sport.
“It’s going to explode. Now it has happened, I can’t wait to see what it brings to the world.
“Who would have thought that this moment was going to happen right now? I’m only 28 and still have so much time left in my career.
“It is surreal but the next few weeks it will feel like a dream. I don’t know what is going to happen when I get home. I am going to be on a lot of television shows and doing a lot of interviews probably. It’ll be a crazy few weeks.”
‘Belgium must be ready to catch this moment’
Only two major ranking events will take place in continental Europe next season, both of them in Germany.
But Belgian journalist Marnik Geukens, from Het Belang van Limburg newspaper, believes Brecel’s triumph can act as a turning point.
“In Belgium this can give the sport a new boost. The nice thing is we have always had talent with Julien Leclercq and Ben Mertens coming through,” Geukens told BBC Sport.
“It is exceptional that we have three professionals of that standard but the big problem is infrastructure because a lot of snooker clubs are closing down due to finance.
“We need that to change in the long term and be ready to catch this moment. Luca is popular not only because of his nationality but because of his free-flowing style and people don’t leave matches that he is involved in thinking snooker is boring.
“Even now people are watching him in pubs back in Belgium as though the national football team were playing.”
Brecel rewarded for staying true to his philosophy
The ‘Belgian Bullet’ became the youngest ever player to play at the World Championship at the age of 17 in 2012, but until this year had never progressed past the first round at the famous Sheffield venue.
His success has nevertheless been been widely anticipated by those that saw his rich promise during his early teens, especially when a video of him compiling a maximum 147 break in practice emerged on YouTube.
The only surprise is that, for all his talent and aggressive approach, lifting snooker’s biggest prize is only his fourth ranking title.
However, it is still a monumental reward for an unorthodox style that does not compare to any other player on the professional circuit.
Prior to the tournament he spoke of spending just 15 minutes on the practice table and also admitted to getting “drunk as hell” after his second-round win over Mark Williams.
He has also driven through the night in between matches to spend time in Belgium with his girlfriend Laura, while his carefree approach also extended to turning up just five minutes before the first session of his final against Selby.
Speaking on BBC Two, six-time world champion Steve Davis said: “He resisted the temptation to do what people told him he should do.
“They [the Brecel family] stuck to their guns and stayed in Belgium and I’m delighted for them all – it’s great to see somebody play swashbuckling snooker but with balance as well and push the game to even more new limits than we thought possible.
“Young players will be looking at that and saying ‘that’s the way to play, that’s the way to win’. Don’t hang around, don’t study every shot, see the shot, go for it, trust your first instincts.
“He’s the first player who has led from the front relentlessly so it could make a difference, maybe the old style is ever so slightly changing.”