PETALING JAYA: The odds seem to be heavily stacked against the national men’s archery team in their do-or-die mission in Paris for the Tokyo Olympics’ Final Qualification Tournament (FQT) this weekend.
The trio of Khairul Anuar Mohamed, Akmal Nor Hasrin and Zarif Syahiir Zolkepeli face a daunting task in battling against 38 nations for three remaining berths in the team event.
They will be aiming to join the nine qualified countries to complete the exclusive 12-team cast for next month’s Tokyo Games.
Hosts Japan have automatic qualification reigning champions South Korea, Holland, China, India, Taiwan, Great Britain, Australia and Kazakhstan are also through by virtue of being the top eight finishers at the 2019 World Championships in Holland.
However, a host of world top-10 sides have yet to qualify and Malaysia, the world No. 20, will have to upset the formbooks to get a ticket and avoid missing the Games for the first time since Beijing 2008.
Among the top team vying to make the cut are world No. 3 Spain, Germany (No.5), Turkey (No. 6), United States (No. 7), Ukraine (No. 8) and Italy (No. 10).
The in-form Spain and Germany underlined their credentials by winning the first two World Cup stages in Guatemala and Switzerland last month while Ukraine also impressed after finishing runners-up to Holland in the European Championship two weeks ago.
United States and Italy, who boast talismanic world No. 1 Brady Ellison and No. 3 Mauro Nespoli respectively, will also fancy their chances given their past success in the Olympics.
Italy are the London 2012 champions while United States will be desperate to go to Tokyo to make up for their two near misses – silvers in London (2012) and Rio de Janeiro (2016).
As for Khairul and teammates, their build-up for the FQT wasn’t exactly an impressive one.
They did bag a bronze in the Stage 1 of Asia Cup last week, but it meant as good as nothing as the competition comprised only three teams including South Korea and Japan.
More alarmingly, none of them were able to clear their opening hurdles in the individual competition, with world No. 9 Khairul losing to an unheralded 15-year-old Bangladeshi opponent.
Head coach Lee Jae-hyung will be praying for a replay of their 2016 effort when Malaysia, represented by Khairul, Akmal and the late Haziq Kamaruddin, took the same route to the Rio Olympics via the FQT.
They delivered when it mattered most, beating Germany in the playoff for third place and qualified alongside France and Indonesia.
Qualifying for the team competition will also ensure a country gets the full representation of three archers in the individual event.
If they fail, then Khairul will be the sole representative in Tokyo.
Khairul sealed an individual spot after bagging a historic silver at the 2019 World Championships.