It's down to the Swedes and the Latvians. Five rounds, 10 games and hundreds of points after both teams sent their first polished ball down the lane, Sweden I and Latvia III are heading to the grand final tournament with no more than a few pins between them. But, as past games have shown, any of the six qualifying teams could steal the title trophy.
"Tonight it's now or never," said Mikael Lindgren of Sweden I. "It's not just a game anymore."
As competitive as this may sound, Lindgren wasn't the only player with eyes set on the prize. In fact, all of the year's top teams seemed to be focused on one thing - making the final round. Even the atmosphere was a bit subdued, as players and supporters anxiously waited for the sweet sound of clashing pins. And for perhaps the first time, the game drew more attention than the beer.
"Tonight's a tough one for us because we're seventh 's one point away from sixth place," said Ron Smith from the U.S. Embassy. "It would be a heartbreak to finish seventh."
The embassy's worries were eased, however, when they narrowly made the sixth place cut. And for those teams that didn't qualify for the final round, there's always next year. Many players already have high hopes for 2005.
"We're joining the game next year for sure, and we'll be stronger from the beginning," said Lars Simonsen from the Danish Chamber of Commerce.
After coming out of nowhere to win round five in September, the Danish Chamber of Commerce still has a chance at taking home this year's trophy.
"It's better to come from the last position and win than being expected to take first place and come out in the middle," Simonsen added. "We're going to stay in the shadow and step out at the right moment 's when the sun starts to shine. That's our motto."
With almost every team playing their best, the night almost seemed more competitive than social. Diplomats looked more like athletes, friends became coaches, and amateurs could have been mistaken for professionals. Even the Swedes showed some pregame nerves.
"It's tough competition tonight. The U.S.A scored 210 points in the captains game, we got second with 183 and Finland II did well too," Fredrik Haggstrom said shortly before the team competition began. "You can imagine the tension that there will be in the real game."
In the end, however, the Swedes came out on top, winning the round with 507 points. They were joined by fellow qualifiers Parex Banka with 482 points, the German Embassy, 427 points, the Netherands-Latvian Chamber of Commerce, 400 points, the Danish Chamber of Commerce, 398 points and the U.S. Embassy - 394 points.