It’s touch and go

Yesterday, former national shuttler Ong Beng Teong evaluated Malaysia's prospects against South Korea for the Thomas Cup Finals. Today, the 44-year-old Beng Teong, who is still very much in the game as the operations director of Kuala Lumpur Racket Club, tells The Star's NG WEI LOON, how Malaysia stack up against Indonesia. 

WHENEVER the Thomas Cup comes around it will always vividly remind me of the greatest moment in my badminton career with the national team. 

Indonesia were then, seemingly invincible, in that Thomas Cup series (1988) and not meaning to be boastful, I had a big hand in sending them packing in the semi-finals.  

We did not win the Cup but it was the first time in 21 years that Malaysia beat Indonesia, the so-called unbeatable team in world badminton then. 

It all happened at Stadium Negara. My partner then was the young Cheah Soon Kit. The overall score was 2-2. And it was down to Soon Kit and me to deliver. 

DOWN AND OUT: Filepic shows the Malaysian pair of Ong Beng Teong and Cheah Soon Kit sending Indonesia’s Liem Swie King and Bobby Ertanto sprawling during the Thomas Cup in 1988.

Even the most ardent fans in the packed stadium did not give us much of a chance against the Indon maestro Liem Swie King and Bobby Ertanto.  

Swie King, the formidable singles player of the Indonesia team, had the reputation of playing match-winning doubles matches with different partners. 

He did it in Indonesia's victory over China in the 1984 Finals in Kuala Lumpur after losing the first singles match to Luan Jin. He then partnered Kartono to win the decisive second doubles. 

This time we turned the tables on Swie King as Soon Kit and myself, back by a vociferous home crowd, pulled off the impossible to give Malaysia a 3-2 win. 

I can still remember quite clearly how we sent the two Indons scrambling all over the court during that tie. 

We lost the final to China but the win over Indonesia was a defining and inspiring moment for me and badminton in the country. 

And indeed it was four years later when Malaysia regained the prestigious trophy in 1992 at the same venue. How I wished I had been with the team.  

For the upcoming Finals in Japan, Indonesia will still be a team to beat for any side to win the Thomas Cup.  

Malaysia are expected to meet either Indonesia or South Korea in the quarter-finals. If Malaysia meet Indonesia, it will be tough. 

Malaysia are the second seeds going into the Finals with the record of beating Indonesia in the Manila SEA Games last December and also in the Asian Zone Thomas Cup qualifying tournament in Jaipur in February. 

But, the Finals will be a different ball game. Both teams will be playing at different strength compared to the qualifying tournament. 

Based on the rankings, Malaysia are superior in the three singles but are behind in the doubles. 

Lee Chong Wei will hold the key in the outcome of the tie for Malaysia in the first match. He is expected to take on world champion Taufik Hidayat. Both are great attacking players and the winner will give their team an advantage. 

Their second singles Sony Dwi Kuncoro, despite suffering a drop in form of late, is still a formidable opponent and can be counted on to match our team captain Wong Choong Hann. 

It will probably go down the wire because Indonesia have two formidable doubles pairs in Candra Wijaya-Sigit Budiarto and Luluk Hadiyanto-Alven Yulianto. 

Malaysia's top pair Chan Chong Ming-Koo Kien Keat have not beaten Candra-Sigit, who are the former world champions.  

Chong Ming-Kien Keat are world number six while Candra-Sigit are four rungs higher on the rankings. 

Choong Tan Fook-Lee Wan Wah hold the advantage over Luluk-Alven in the second doubles. But, the Indonesian second ranked pair can be dangerous.  

Tan Fook-Wan Wah beat them en route to winning the recent Asian Badminton Championships in Johor Baru. 

If it goes down the wire, Mohd Hafiz Hashim should come up against Simon Santoso and the former holds a 3-1 advantage. 

Either way, it will be a close encounter against Indonesia.  

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