But the players, powered by youths, proved them wrong by pulling off one of the best outings in the SEA Games.
One would have expected more from badminton, as one of the major Olympic Games medal contributors, but ironically, they played down their chances.
But the national shuttlers rose to the occasion by claiming three golds out of the four finals they entered – thanks to victories from Lee Zii Jia in the men’s singles, S. Kisona (women’s singles) and Aaron Chia-Soh Wooi Yik (men’s doubles).
Goh Soon Huat-Shevon Lai Jemie nearly made it a quadruple joy but they missed out on mixed doubles glory by a whisker after going down fighting to world No. 5 Praveen Jordan-Melati Daeva Oktavianti.
The 3-2-5 medal haul saw Malaysia not only narrowly beat Indonesia (3-2-2) to become the overall champions, it also marked our country’s best ever outing in 44 years when Malaysia claimed three individual golds at the 1975 Games in Bangkok.
While the achievements are worth celebrating, the BAM should not rest on their laurels.
It is worth noting that Malaysia is the only one of the “Big Three” SEA nations to field their full-strength side - although most of them are youngsters.
Indonesia only used the services of their men’s singles aces Jonatan Christie and Anthony Ginting in the team event, and even had the luxury to rest their top men’s doubles stars Kevin Sanjaya Sukamuljo-Marcus Fernaldi Gideon, Mohd Ahsan-Hendra Setiawan and Hafiz Faizal-Gloria Emanuelle Widjaja (mixed doubles).
Thailand did the same by using Ratchanok Intanon and Busanan Ongbamrungphan only for the team event and did not field their World Championships’ mixed doubles silver medallists Dechapol Puavaranukroh-Sapsiree Taerattanachai.
And that’s why Malaysia struggled in the men and women team events as the Thais and Indonesians had more depth and experiences in their sides.
Malaysia failed to stop Indonesia from being crowned the men’s team winners for the sixth time with a 1-3 defeat, while the women’s team lost 0-3 to Thailand, powered by Ratchanok, in the semi-finals.
Obviously, Malaysia have to strengthen their teams ahead of the Thomas Cup and Uber Cup Finals next year in Aarhus, Denmark, from May 16-24.
Malaysia are not guaranteed a place in both tournaments as they have to finish among the top four teams at the Asian Team Championships in Singapore next February.
Beyond the SEA Games, they have to contend against teams such as Japan, China, India, South Korea, Taiwan and Hong Kong, who are much ahead of Malaysia in terms of having more established players.
More work is ahead for the BAM. They should not be satisfied with the success in the SEA Games alone but aim for victories at next year’s Olympic Games, Asian Games, Commonwealth Games and of course, the Thomas-Uber Cup Finals too.
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