MALAYSIA came to Japan with high spirits, the best of preparations and with a team to be envied. In the end, the Thomas Cup Finals outing cruelly exposed the lack of depth in the men's singles department.
In the semi-final tie against Denmark on Friday, Malaysians were beaten in all three singles although the doubles players salvaged some pride by taking what were supposed to be two un-winnable points in the narrow 2-3 defeat at the Tokyo Metropolitan Gymnasium.
Those who conceded points were Lee Chong Wei, Mohd Hafiz Hashim and Kuan Beng Hong. All of them had the ability to win but their opponents had the better mental strength when it mattered most.
The Malaysians winners were Chan Chong Ming-Koo Kien Keat, who pulled off the biggest upset of the day by beating two-time All-England champions Jens Eriksen-Martin Lundgaard Hansen, and veterans Choong Tan Fook-Lee Wan Wah.
While Malaysia rode on the strength of the singles to beat Indonesia and South Korea at the Asian Zone qualifier in Jaipur just three months ago, the roles were reversed in Japan
For sure, the absence of skipper Wong Choong Hann, who suffered a ruptured Archilles tendon at the most critical time, weakened the team's challenge. Choong Hann at second singles and Hafiz at third would have been a different proposition altogether.
But the hard truth is that Malaysia are no longer producing quality men singles players.
Choong Hann, now 29 and at the prime of his career, will unlikely be around for the next Finals in Jakarta in 2008 and Malaysia will still have to depend on Chong Wei and Hafiz. Chong Wei remains the most consistent but he still has to improve on his match temperament.
After poor performances early this year, Hafiz is fitter and better now but he easily loses focus.
Beng Hong, however, hardly showed the kind of game that raises hopes for the future. He was toothless against the unknown Joachim Persson.
With none of the back-up players under Rashid Sidek's Project 2010-12 showing any signs of making a breakthrough, the future indeed looks bleak.
National doubles chief coach Yap Kim Hock said he would find immediate solutions to add quality to the men's singles department as they prepare for two major tournaments this year the World Championships in Madrid from Sept 18-24 and the Asian Games in Doha from Dec 1-15.
Yes, I am disappointed with our defeat. We had a chance but our choices were limited in the men's singles after Choong Hann's injury, said Kim Hock.
We have Chong Wei, Hafiz and Beng Hong. Now, we have to put serious effort to add more quality into their game. We have to use a different approach to make sure their game suit the 21x3 scoring format.
Kim Hock said he may also rope in a few youngsters.
The Project 2010-12 is not under my jurisdiction but I may try to get some talented youngsters from there to give them high level exposure. This could help solve the lack of quality players in the elite team, he said.
He was, however, against any major revamp.
Our team is on the right track. There is no need to hire or sack coaches or drop players. The set-up is solid now. We have great support crew. Based on our preparation for the Finals here, China have included us as one of the medal contenders for the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing. Our team is united and that is very important to me.
We just have to fine tune some minor things and I am confident we will have a solid team to get back the Cup and win honours at the world and Olympic tournaments, he added.
If there's any consolation, Malaysia can look forward to a better future in the doubles.
Besides Chong Ming-Kien Keat and Tan Fook-Wan Wah, waiting in the wings are Mohd Fairuzizuan Mohd Tazari-Lin Woon Fui, Gan Teik Chai-Mohd Zakry Abdul Latif, Tan Bin Shen-Ong Soon Hock and Tan Boon Heong-Hoon Thien How.