Danish skipper Niels-Kristian Iversen is “all up for winning” as his side bids to bounce back from their 2015 Monster Energy FIM Speedway World Cup last-heat heartbreak in the 2016 opener at Vojens on Saturday.
Denmark take on arch-rivals Poland, Russia and the Czech Republic in Event 1, with the winners advancing to the Monster Energy SWC Final in Manchester on July 30. The second and third-placed teams line up in the Race Off, also at Britain’s National Speedway Stadium, on July 29.
The Danes and Poles dominated the tournament between 2005 and 2014, with Poland winning six times and Denmark four. But with Sweden lifting the title at Vojens last summer, their rivals will be determined to wrestle back the Ove Fundin Trophy.
Denmark, managed for the first time by speedway legend Hans Nielsen and Soren Andersen, are led into battle by skipper Niels-Kristian Iversen, with former Monster Energy SWC winners Kenneth Bjerre, Michael Jepsen Jensen and Leon Madsen joining him.
Poland track a side featuring four World Under-21 champions – Maciej Janowski, Patryk Dudek, Bartosz Zmarzlik and Piotr Pawlicki, while Russia are spearheaded by former world No.3 Emil Sayfutdinov and Artem Laguta. SGP third reserve Vaclav Milik leads the Czech charge.
Iversen saw his dream of a fifth gold medal cruelly dashed at Vojens last season when he was excluded from a last-heat decider. So he’s determined to power Denmark straight into the Final.
He said: “It’s a new tournament and a new year, so we start afresh. It’s a long way from the first round to winning the Final, so we have a lot of work ahead of us. We know that. But the way it ended last year left a sour taste and we’re all up for winning.
“It has been a hard battle between us and the Poles for a number of years, with Sweden coming in last year and winning it. It’ll be a tough start tonight. But we have home-track advantage.
“We can’t underestimate the Czechs, and the Russians are in there too. They look strong with Artem Laguta and Emil Sayfutdinov. They’re in for a big tournament as well if we look at it on paper.”
Along with Zmarzlik and Pawlicki, Polish skipper Janowski was one of three Poles in the Adrian Flux British SGP semis as his team goes into the tournament in red-hot form. With Dudek also crowned Polish champion, he hopes his side can shine on Danish shale.
He said: “I’m happy my younger friends also scored good points in Cardiff and showed really good riding skills. I think Polish fans can be very proud of them.
“Of course the World Cup will be tough, but if we want to win it, we’ve got to get past the semi. If we don’t get through that, there’s no Final. We’ll go to Vojens and try to win. I’m pretty sure we’ve got a really good team and a lot of good riders.”
Vojens tickets are still available online. Visit: http://www.billetlugen.dk/da/event/2016-monster-energy-fim-speedway-world-cup-event-1/billetter.
MONSTER ENERGY SWC EVENT 1 TEAMS
RUSSIA (RED): 1 Viktor Kulakov, 2 Emil Sayfutdinov (captain), 3 Andrei Kudriashov, 4 Artem Laguta. RESERVE: No reserve. TEAM MANAGER: Andrei Savin.
POLAND (BLUE): 1 Maciej Janowski (captain), 2 Patryk Dudek, 3 Piotr Pawlicki, 4 Bartosz Zmarzlik. RESERVE: Krystian Pieszczek. TEAM MANAGER: Marek Cieslak.
CZECH REPUBLIC (WHITE): 1 Josef Franc, 2 Matej Kus, 3 Eduard Krcmar, 4 Vaclav Milik (captain). RESERVE: Zdenek Holub. TEAM MANAGER: Milan Spinka.
DENMARK (YELLOW): 1 Kenneth Bjerre, 2 Leon Madsen, 3 Michael Jepsen Jensen, 4 Niels-Kristian Iversen (captain).
RESERVE: Frederik Jakobsen. TEAM MANAGERS: Hans Nielsen and Soren Andersen.