PETALING JAYA: Singles shuttler Lee Zii Jia's solid win against Kento Momota is good enough to make up for Malaysia's loss to Japan in the semi-finals of the Sudirman Cup.
Malaysia fell short in their bid to reach their first final after succumbing to a 3-1 defeat against the second seeds at the Energia Areena in Vantaa, Finland on Saturday but kudos to every player for playing their hearts out.
The players put up a stronger showing against Japan after losing tamely to the same side in the group stage just days ago.
Hopes were high on the in-form Tokyo Olympics bronze medallists Aaron Chia-Soh Wooi Yik to get the team off to a good start by repeating their win against Yugo Kobayashi-Takuro Hoki but they collapsed 15-21, 14-21 in 42 minutes.
"They came really prepared today. They were a lot stronger and faster and we were a bit slow getting into the game and they took advantage of that," admitted Aaron.
S. Kisona was up next in the women's singles contest but she had no answer against a sublime Akane Yamaguchi as she collected only 12 points in her 7-21, 5-21 defeat in 26 minutes.
"I tried to fight against her but she was way stronger than she was the other day," said Kisona.
"It was so hard to even win a point from her."
The pressure was on Malaysia after losing the first two points but captain Lee Zii Jia extended Malaysia's lifeline by beating world No. 1 Momota 22-20, 21-19 in an epic 59-minute clash to mark his only second win in nine meetings against the two-time world champion.
It was also a quick revenge for Zii Jia as he had lost 18-21, 10-21 to Momota on Thursday.
"After seeing Aaron-Wooi Yik lose, I knew I had to play my part to raise my teammates' spirit to keep fighting," said Zii Jia.
"I'm happy with my performance today. I was able to retrieve almost every single shot that Momota sent to me and I didn't give up.
"Being an attacking player against a very defensive player, you need to be patient and mentally strong to stay focused throughout the match, which I did.
"I didn't want to lose to Momota twice in the same tournament," added Zii Jia, who beat the Japanese en route to winning the All-England in March.
Zii Jia's win was expected to reignite a fightback as how they did to upstage Indonesia 3-2 in the quarter-finals on Friday but world No. 19 Pearly Tan-M. Thinaah could not save the tie.
The duo however, can certainly walk tall for putting up a spirited display before going down 19-21,17-21 to scratch pair Misaki Matsutomo-Mayu Matsumoto in a pulsating 55-minute contest.
Despite the last four exit, the 18-member youthful squad with an average age of 22, have done the country proud as they have become only the second Malaysian team to have won a bronze medal in the world mixed team championship.
China bt South Korea 3-0 (Wang Yilyu-Huang Dongping bt Seo Seung-jae-Shin Sheung-chan 21-14, 21-15; Shi Yuqi bt Heo Kwang-hee 17-21, 21-9, 21-11; Chen Yufei bt An Se-young 21-14, 15-21, 21-15).
Japan bt Malaysia 3-1 (Takuro Hoki-Yugo Kobayashi bt Aaron Chia-Soh Wooi Yik 21-15, 21-14; Akane Yamaguchi bt S. Kisona 21-7, 21-5; Kento Momota lost to Lee Zii Jia 20-22, 19-21; Misaki Matsutomo-Mayu Matsumoto bt M. Thinaah-Pearly Tan 21-19, 21-17).