TAIPEI, July 16, 2004
Given what seemed to be a "rare" chance to shine on the TV table, former world champion Efren "Bata" Reyes seized the moment, pouncing on German Oliver Ortmann’s costly miscue on the 14th rack to fashion out a heart-stopping 9-6 victory and barge into the Last 16 of the World Pool Championship here Thursday.

Reyes, playing on the center stage for only the second time in six days, raced to a 4-0 lead early to the delight of his millions of fans around the world. But after a dry break on the fifth rack, the Filipino champion was reduced to a mere spectator as Ortmann dished off a series of impeccable breaks and pocketing to win the next six and take control.

But the Euro Mosconi Cup captain missed what seemed to be an easy shot on the orange 5 on the corner pocket, enabling Reyes, who bounced back from a 4-6 deficit to wrest a 7-6 lead, to coast to the victory that set up a clash with compatriot Marlon Manalo.

A snooker champion, Manalo foiled the highly-anticipated Reyes-Francisco "Django" Bustamante duel as he dominated the world No. 1 and romped off with a 9-5 victory that extended Bustamante’s woes in the sport’s premier event.

Rodolfo Luat, the only Filipino hope in the upper bracket of a star-studded group, followed up his scintillating come-from-behind 9-7 victory over Steve Davis in the Last 64 with an emphatic 9-2 win over Taiwan’s Hsia Hui-kai to arrange a Last 16 showdown with the winner of the all-Taiwan duel between Wang Hung-hsiang and Kang Chin-Ching.

And Dennis Orcullo, the surprise package of a crack bunch of Filipino cue artists, sustained his fine form to join Reyes and Manalo in the next round, beating Russian Konstantin Stepanov, 9-5.

Ramil Gallego, however, failed to sustain his fightback from 3-7 and eventually lost to Swede ace Marcus Chamat, 9-6, leaving only four Filipinos in the Last 16.

Six of the 11 Filipinos who qualified in the elims advanced to the Last 64 with Lee Van Corteza, Warren Kiamco, Gandy Valle, Antonio Lining and Antonio Gabica falling by the wayside in varying fashions.

Whether trailing or up ahead in head-to-head matches, Manalo showed he’s up to the challenge, taking advantage of the lag to post a 3-0 lead before thwarting every Bustamante counterattack the rest of the way. Bustamante, whose best finish here was second two years ago, closed to within two racks at 5-7, but missed on his break on the 13th, giving Manalo the chance to steal and keep his turn on the 14th.

Against Ching-Shun Yang, Manalo battled back from 4-7 down to clip one of Taiwan’s most feared players late Wednesday.

"This is a great win for me. But I always believed that I could win. I am looking forward to facing Django," said Manalo.

He didn’t only flinch when he faced Bustamante. He dominated him.

But it will be an entirely different thing against Reyes, now more than ever is expected to have built enough confidence in his attempt to nail a second world crown after winning in Cardiff, Wales in 1999, a victory that validated his claim as one of the best players in the world.

But in a long stretch against Ortmann, Reyes appeared headed to be joining Bustamante to the sidelines.

Passing up on the first of two Ortmann push shots, Reyes found himself on the brink after the German ace converted on it behind a spectacular bank shots that reverberated throughout the Taipei World Trade Center for a 6-4 Ortmann lead. — Dante Navarro

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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