The Star Online > Sports
Saturday March 13, 2004
Malaysia likely to face China or Indonesia in quarter-finals

BY RAJES PAUL

PETALING JAYA: Malaysia are not in the same group as defending champions Indonesia or top seeds China but still face the grim prospect of coming up against one of the big two in the quarter-finals of the Thomas Cup Finals from May 7-16 in Jakarta.

China, who have a balanced men's singles and doubles now, are favourites to win the team title after a lapse of 14 years but Indonesia, who are often invincible on home ground, are also determined to keep the Cup for a sixth consecutive time.

Malaysia, however, can avoid the two at least until the semi-final stage but only if they finish second in the group. But given their opponents, they should finish as group winners.

China and Indonesia, too, are not likely to be too keen on meeting Malaysia too early, which could mean some surprise results in the early round.

In the draw for the Thomas Cup Finals, third seeds Malaysia have been drawn in Group C with Thailand and South Africa.

Top seeds China have been drawn in Group A with Indonesia and the United States.

If Malaysia become Group C champions, they are likely to meet the Group A runners-up in the quarter-finals. The Group A runners-up, however, will have to first beat the third-placed team from Group B.

Group B has fourth seeds South Korea, Germany and New Zealand while the three in Group D are second seeds Denmark, Japan and England.

The draw yesterday was conducted by International Badminton Federation (IBF) vice-presidents Charoen Wattanasin and Datuk Punch Gunalan in a packed room in the TransTV office in Jakarta. The event was broadcast live on Indonesian television.

National singles chief coach Misbun Sidek, when contacted in Birmingham yesterday, said that based on the draw, interesting battles certainly loomed ahead.

“With the new format, the draw certainly makes this year's Thomas Cup Finals an interesting one,” said Misbun.

The Finals have been expanded from eight to 12 teams for both the Thomas and Uber Cup competitions.

Previously, the preliminary rounds were played in two groups with the top two making the crossover semi-finals.

This time, none of the teams will be eliminated after the group ties.

The group winners will get direct entry to the quarter-finals. The other four quarter-finalists will be decided in crossover playoffs among the second and third placed teams of the groups in the order of A versus B and C versus D.

“We do not want to talk about our strategy now. Let us finalise our team for the Finals first. Then, we will talk about what is the best way to go far in the Finals,” said Misbun.

He, however, believed there was a great possibility that teams would manipulate results in the Finals.

“If Malaysia become group champions, China and Indonesia may go all out to avoid finishing second. I may not be surprised if one of the teams try to finish last in the group so they can avoid playing Malaysia until much later,” he said.

Misbun and doubles coach Yap Kim Hock have until April 23 to decide on their Thomas Cup line-up.

Meanwhile, the Malaysian women's team, who have qualified for the Uber Cup Finals by merit for the first time, are drawn in Group C with Japan and Denmark. It will be a tall order for Malaysia to even reach the last eight.