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Reigning European Champion Simon Whitlock made a fine start to the defence of his title with a first round victory over Kim Huybrechts on Thursday, while there were also wins for James Wade, Robert Thornton and Raymond van Barneveld in Mulheim, Germany.

Whitlock fought off the challenge of Huybrechts in an entertaining affair, which saw the Australian ace race into a 4-1 lead before his opponent took three legs in a row to draw level.

But ‘The Wizard’ grabbed a crucial break of throw at four apiece and went on to see out the victory with a fine 110 finish.

“I’m extremely pleased to have come through that,” admitted Whitlock, who will face Colin Lloyd in round two on Saturday.

“I knew I was in for a real battle when the draw came out and that’s exactly what happened. But I won’t be giving up this title easily, it was the proudest moment of my career when I won here last year and I would love to defend it.

“That’s a long way away yet but I’ve got past an excellent opponent in Kim and I’ll go away and prepare for the next one.”

Wade defeated Mark Webster 6-2 after winning the first three legs and taking out finishes of 80 and 96.

“I’m happy I won but it was difficult to play a friend,” said Wade.

“But I had a job to do and fortunately I got it done. Now I can look forward to the next one and the rest of the tournament.”

Thornton and van Barneveld will meet each other in the last 16 after their respective successes against Brendan Dolan and Tomas Seyler.

Thornton swept past Dolan convincingly, winning 6-2 despite struggling with a pulled muscle in his back, while ‘Barney’ claimed a 6-1 triumph over Germany’s Seyler.

Friday night’s action will see Michael van Gerwen take on Kurt van de Rijck and Paul Nicholson up against Max Hopp

By Chris Murphy

Bronze tickets are still available to see van Gerwen, Whitlock, Wade, van Barneveld, Priestley, Huybrechts and Winstanley at OVER THE TOP in Barnsley on September 27 – GET YOURS HERE