PETALING JAYA: The Malaysian badminton team need to get ambitious going into the Thomas Cup and aim for nothing less than a table-topping performance.
Malaysia, five-time winners of the Cup but not since 1992, should face little trouble in getting past the preliminary stage after being drawn in the Group A together with 13-time champions Indonesia and European sides Holland and England. The top two finishers will advance into the quarter-finals.
National men’s doubles ace Aaron Chia, however, believes Malaysia must aim higher at the Finals in Aarhus, Denmark from Oct 3-11, although the odds are stacked against them for the match against top seeds Indonesia.
Aaron knows exactly how much beating Indonesia means to the team, especially having been part of losing side in the recent three meetings dating back to 2018.
After being defeated in the quarter-finals of the last Finals in Bangkok two years ago, Malaysia went down on two more occasions – settling for second place in last year’s Philippines SEA Games team event and the Asia Team Championships, also in Manila, in February.
Indonesia will indeed be the team to beat. They boast a star-studded squad that includes three men’s doubles pairs in the top six – world No. 1 Marcus Fernaldi Gideon-Kevin Sanjaya Sukamuljo, No. 2 Mohammad Ahsan-Hendra Setiawan and No. 6 Fajar Alfian-Muhamma Rian Ardianto.
Their singles line-up is just as formidable with the likes of Anthony Ginting (No. 6), Jonatan Christie (No. 7) and Shesar Hiren Rhustavito (No. 18) available.
It’s also worth noting that the Indonesians are desperate to reclaim the Cup that has eluded them since 2002.
“On paper, I think we are looking good for the last eight, ” said Aaron, who made his debut in Bangkok. “But I still think we have a fighting chance to finish as group champions, and we should be striving for that.
“I played in all the last three meetings against them, and in each and of every one, we gave them a good fight. We lost 3-1. Things could have gone either way if the match had been tied at 2-2.
“Personally, my target is to help the team to final, and if we manage that, then try to bring home the Cup. To become champions, we have to take down every opponent and that’s why I feel beating Indonesia in the group stage will be crucial to the team’s confidence ahead of the knockout stage.”
In the draw done yesterday, defending champions China are in Group B while Denmark and Japan, the 2016 and 2014 winners, lead Group C and Group D respectively.
All eyes, however, will be on the Group D – the Group of Death – as it features South Korea and Thailand.
In the Uber Cup Finals, the Malaysian women face early elimination as they must survive an intimidating Group B that comprises South Korea, Indonesia and Australia.
National team coaching director Wong Choong Hann downplayed the draw, saying it was only a small part of the campaign.
“It is hugely important to have the correct mindset. We have to raise the bar and prepare ourselves instead of worrying too much about our opponents, ” said Choong Hann. “Our target for the Thomas Cup is to reach the semi-finals while for the Uber Cup, it’s a top-eight finish.
“Although it will be a tough challenge, this will be the best platform for our players to prove that we are ready to take on any team in the world and that we want to be among the best.”
A fresh draw for the knockout stage will be done upon the completion of group stages.
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