TheStar

BEIJING: Hosts China are strong favourites to redeem themselves and win the ninth Sudirman Cup badminton championships, which begin in Beijing today.

Reclaiming the Cup, which China have taken four times but lost at the last running in 2003 to South Korea, would give the Chinese their third straight international team title after winning the Thomas and Uber Cup titles last year.

“My players are all outstanding world champions,” Chinese head coach Li Yongbo said.

“I’m very confident. We will do our utmost to take back the Sudirman Cup.”

The mixed team competition will involve 41 nations, but only eight, broken into two first-tier groups, are in the running for the Cup. The top two teams in each group qualify for the crossover semi-finals.

The remaining 33 nations, including tournament newcomers Mongolia and Turkmenistan, are positioned in groups according to their rankings from the 2003 Sudirman in Eindhoven. They will be fighting for promotion from five lower divisions.

Armenia withdrew from Group Six in early May.

Chinese badminton has sparkled in the last year, winning three of five gold medals at the Athens Olympics and four out of five titles at both the All-England championships in March and the German Open in April.

The 24-strong Sudirman squad is stacked with talent, including men’s world number one Lin Dan and Athens gold medallists Zhang Ning, Yang Wei, Zhang Jiewen, Gao Ling and Zhang Jun.

The team had moved into a hotel attached to the competition venue, Beijing’s Capital Stadium, and are being kept away from the press and even telephones to make sure they are in top mental form, the China Sports Daily reported.

Indonesia are the other power in Group 1B, which is rounded off by Sweden and Hong Kong.

The Indonesians’ fate will rest on the shoulders of Olympic gold medallist and 2004 Player of the Year Taufik Hidayat and the formidable men’s pair of Candra Wijaya-Sigit Budiarto.

Defending champions South Korea will field an 18-member team who look strong enough to make it through the tough Group 1A – thanks to the unexpected presence of world champion duo Kim Dong-moon-Ra Kyung-min, coaxed back into competition since retiring after the Athens Olympics.

The pair’s form is uncertain after more than nine months away, but they should provide some needed back-up to younger players like Athens gold medallist Ha Tae-kwon and silver medallist Shon Seung-mo, with Korea facing stiff competition from Denmark, England and Thailand.

The Danes, bronze medallists at Eindhoven, will be led by top men’s singles players Peter Gade-Christensen and Kenneth Jonassen and their strong pairs, including world champions Lars Paaske-Jonas Rasmussen.

Only three countries have won the Cup since its inauguration in 1989 – China, Indonesia and South Korea. – Reuters