Buoyant Malaysian shuttlers ready for Japan

JAPAN, so what?

Malaysia, without their ace Lee Chong Wei, do not look like they stand a chance against the Thomas Cup runners-up when the two teams clash in the first round of the men’s badminton team competition tomorrow.

But Malaysians are not breaking out in cold sweat.

In fact, the men’s squad, who appeared to be in high spirit during a training session at the Istora Gelora Bung Karno in Jakarta yesterday, are ready to give Japan a run for their money.

Former international Liew Daren, who will lead the team in the first singles, believes the story can take an unexpected twist.

“It’s not a favourable draw for sure, but that doesn’t mean that we don’t stand a chance,” said Daren.

“We won’t give up just because our opponents are touted the favourites.

“We’ll give everything we have and play our bests because that’s what it takes to win a match, be it against Japan or not.

The 31-year-old Daren defied the odds when he won a bronze medal at the World Championships in Nanjing two weeks ago.

He was written off in the first round but went on to beat his more fancied opponents including Indonesia’s Jonatan Christie, India’s K. Srikanth and Japan’s Kanta Tsuneyama to reach the semis.

His gallant run ended in the hands of eventual champion and world No. 4 Kento Momota, whom he will meet again in the first singles tomorrow.

“I’m looking forward to a rematch against Momota. I lost in straight games to him at the world meet, so hopefully I’ll be able to push him further this time and try for an upset,” said Daren.

“As the first singles, it’s my responsibility to give my team a headstart.

National men’s singles head coach Datuk Misbun Sidek echoed Daren’s sentiment.

“We have a fighting chance. We’ll see if (Lee) Zii Jia can do the job for us. He is on par with Kenta (Nishimoto, world No. 10), but the latter is experienced.”

Either Leong Jun Hao or Soong Joo Ven will be selected to face world No. 19 Tsuneyama in third singles.

Malaysia will be banking on Goh V Shem-Tan Wee Kiong and Ong Yew Sin-Teo Ee Yi to win against world No. 3 Takeshi Kamura-Keigo Sonoda and world No. 7 Takuto Inoue-Yuki Kaneko in the doubles.

Said men’s doubles head coach Paulus Firman: “Japan doubles players are intimidating but anything can happen in the first round.”