BY RAJES PAUL

KUALA LUMPUR: Thanks to a favourable draw, a mouth-watering final clash between hosts Malaysia and China is on the cards in the Thomas Cup Continental Stage - Asia qualifiers.

In the draw conducted here yesterday, Malaysia was lucky enough to avoid a possible clash against mighty China in the semi-finals.

Barring an upset, Malaysia are slated to meet South Korea in the semi-finals of the Asian zone qualifiers, which will be held from Feb 16-22 at the Kuala Lumpur Badminton (KLBA) Stadium.

Malaysia were also fortunate as they will not have Thailand in the same group.

National singles chief coach Misbun Sidek said: “I would consider it as a favourable draw. It has given us a slight advantage. It is better to meet South Korea rather than China in the semi-finals.”

Malaysia, the third seeds, have been drawn in Group B with Hong Kong and Sri Lanka while top seeds China are in Group D with Thailand, Taiwan and Vietnam.

In Group A are South Korea, India, Iran and Macau while the three teams in Group C are Japan, Singapore and Pakistan.

The champions of each group are assured of their places in the Thomas Cup Finals from May 7-16 in Jakarta. The fifth slot will be a fight among the group runner-ups.

The two semi-finals are between the Group A and B champions and the Group C and D winners.

After Malaysia's humiliating loss to Indonesia's second ranked team in the Vietnam SEA Games last month, Misbun said he would not take any team lightly in the qualifiers.

“Our main aim now is to confirm a place for the Thomas Cup Finals. And we will not under-estimate any teams,” said Misbun.

“We will have to watch out for Hong Kong in our group match. They have players who can beat any top players when they are on form.

“We have beaten South Korea in a friendly match held at the same venue last year. It will be tougher this time but we are prepared to face them,” he added.

Hong Kong will be represented by Ng Wei, Agus Hariyanto, Wiratama Yohan Hadikusuma, Hung Yuk Wong, Tam Lok Tin-Lam Hoi Tak, Njoto Albertus Susanto-Liu Kwok Wa and Zheng Yu Min.

The South Korean players are Lee Hyun-il, Shon Seung-mo, Park Tae-sang, Park Sung-hwan, Yim Bang-eun-Kim Yong-hyun, Lee Dong-soo-Yoo Yong-sung and Kim Dong-moon-Ha Tae-kwon.

The Malaysian team will be represented by Wong Choong Hann, Lee Chong Wei, Mohd Roslin Hashim, Kuan Beng Hong and doubles players Choong Tan Fook-Lee Wan Wah, Chang Kim Wai-Chew Choon Eng and Gan Teik Chai-Koo Kien Keat.

For the record, Malaysia won all their ties to emerge as the Asian champions in the Thomas Cup qualifying tournament in Melbourne two years ago. In the Finals, Malaysia lost 2-3 to Indonesia in the final.

Indonesia, by being the defending champions and hosts, are already in the Finals.