THE World Darts Championship will include a qualifier from Finland for the first time this December, with the 2009 tournament expanding to 70 players.

The introduction of a Preliminary Round last year saw a number of new countries compete at Alexandra Palace in the world's biggest darts tournament.

The field increases by two players this year, with the Finnish ProDarts Champion entering at the Preliminary Round stage alongside the winner of the new Irish Matchplay event, with both guaranteed a minimum £2,500 in prize money.

They will join players from India, China, Japan, the Philippines, New Zealand and the Caribbean in the early stages of the £740,000 event, which will begin on Friday 19 December.

"The PDC has been committed to the international growth of professional darts for a number of years and we're delighted that a champion from Finland will join our other overseas stars in the 2009 World Championship," said PDC Chairman Barry Hearn.

"The strength of players internationally is growing each year now as the series of events in countries such as Australia and Denmark develops, and that has been shown in their displays in this tournament.

"Bringing in a Preliminary Round last year was a huge opportunity for new countries to compete at the highest level and this can only benefit the sport."

The six Preliminary Round winners will join ten other International Representatives in the First Round proper.

These include the leading four players from the European Order of Merit, the top two north American players, the Australian Grand Prix champion and Oceanic Masters winner.

The winner of the qualifying tournament in Denmark - held throughout the year - will also be in the First Round, alongside the Eastern European champion, a place represented by Czech star Miloslav Navratil last year.

Update (3/6/08) - The leading player in the GDC rankings will compete in the Preliminary Round, with the PDC South African Open winner also coming in at this stage.

2009 World Darts Championship
Preliminary Round Competitors
New Zealand National Champion
Chinese Number One
Japanese Number One
Indian Number One
Philippines Number One
Finnish ProDart Champion
Caribbean & South American Masters Champion
Irish Matchplay Champion
Number three ranked player on PDC North American Order of Merit
SBS6 Wildcard
PDC South African Open Champion
GDC number one ranked player (or next highest non-qualified player)

First Round Competitors
Top 32 players from PDC Order of Merit
Top eight players from Players Championship Order of Merit
Eight PDPA Qualifiers
Six Preliminary Round winners
plus the following International Representatives:
Top four non-qualified players from Continental Europe Order of Merit
Number one and two ranked players on PDC North American Order of Merit
Australian Grand Prix Champion
Oceanic Masters Champion
Danish Series Champion
Eastern European Champion

Tickets for the 2009 World Darts Championship are now on general sale - click here for full details