A mountain to climb in Singapore for shuttlers

Tough battle: Men’s singles shuttler Lee Zii Jia loses to China’s Shi Yuqi 18-21,9-21 in the semi-finals of the Asian Team Championships in Alor Setar in 2018.

KUALA LUMPUR: The Thomas Cup, last won in 1992, has long been Malaysia’s dream. But even qualifying for the Finals will be a tough task, Badminton Association of Malaysia (BAM) coaching director Wong Choong Hann has warned.

The biennial Asian Team Championships, to be held in Singapore from Feb 11-16, serve as the continental Thomas Cup and Uber Cup qualifiers with four tickets up for grabs each to the Finals in Aarhus, Denmark May 16-24.

And it won’t be anything like the previous edition in Alor Setar when the likes of China had the luxury of resting top guns Chen Long and Lin Dan.

“This time, everyone will field their strongest line-ups, ” said Choong Hann.

That’s because the tournament not only doubles up as the Thomas Cup and Uber Cup qualifiers, but also offers Olympics qualification points.

“There’s plenty at stake for every individual player. They are going to play their hearts out to help their teams qualify (for the Finals) as well as earn points to boost their Olympic qualifying hopes.

“China, Japan, Indonesia and Taiwan will be the teams to beat, while India, Thailand, South Korea and Hong Kong are very strong as well.

“We’re definitely heading to Singapore with the odds heavily stacked against us. We have a big challenge ahead but I hope to see our players rising to the occasion to try and finish in the top four.”

In 2018, Malaysia made it to the semi-finals of the men’s competition before losing 1-3 to Shi Yuqi-led China.

Even if Malaysia fail to qualify on merit, they are still expected to squeeze into the 16-team Finals by virtue of their team world ranking.

The three highest-ranked nations, not otherwise qualified, will fill up the last remaining spots, joining the continental winners from Oceania, Africa, Pan-America and top four finishers of Europe.

Denmark and China have already qualified by virtue of being the hosts and defending champions respectively.

“There’s every possibility for us to go to Aarhus even if we do not make the cut through the Asian team meet, ” explained Choong Hann.

“Our men’s team are ranked seventh or eighth in the world. But our priority is always to aim for a top four finish.”

As for the Uber Cup, it appears extremely difficult for Malaysia to contend for the four tickets with China, Indonesia, Thailand and South Korea looking set to join defending champions Japan as the five qualifiers from Asia.

Still, Malaysia could still get in through the “back door” – like they did in the Bangkok Finals in 2018.

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