KUALA LUMPUR: There was a pleasant surprise for Malaysia when they were seeded second behind China in the mixed team competition of the Asian Junior Badminton Championships, which begin on Sunday at the Juara Stadium in Bukit Kiara here.
But it will not be easy for Malaysia to live up to the billing in the Under-19 championships as they are expected to play against South Korea in the semi-finals.
Malaysia have been drawn in Group B with India, Mongolia and Vietnam. The third-fourth seeded Koreans are expected to top Group C, which has Indonesia, Taiwan and Laos. Defending champions China are in Group A with Japan, Sri Lanka and Cambodia. Group D comprises Thailand, Hong Kong, Singapore and Kazakhstan.
The top two teams in each group advance to the quarter-finals, which pit qualifiers from Group A against those from Group C and those from Group B against those from Group D.
While the luck of the draw favoured the Malaysian side, led by Asian schools champion Iskandar Zulkarnain, it will not be an easy ride to get into the final. The Koreans dethroned Malaysia as champions last year, winning the tie 3-1 to reach the final.
Team manager How Kim Tho said that a higher seeding in junior-level competitions did not really reflect the real strength of the teams.
“It’s difficult to predict the outcome. We don’t know the actual strength of our rivals, especially when they have players whom we have never heard or even seen before in their sides,” he said.
“We can expect it to be close from the quarter-finals. The Koreans always have quality players, especially in the doubles and they can challenge China for the title.”
His point was emphasised by the fact that none of the Chinese or South Korean players were seeded in the individual draw yesterday. But they certainly have the ability to end the title dreams of their seeded rivals and Iskandar will have to be wary of this.
The 18-year-old is the top seed in the boys’ singles competition while KLRC Bhd’s Zulfadli Zulkifli is the third seed behind Vietnam’s Le Ha Anh.
The Malaysian boys’ doubles pair of Ow Yao Han-Yew Hong Kheng, who were the Commonwealth Youth champions in India last year, were also given the top billing.
At the championships last year, the boys’ doubles pair of Mak Hee Chun-Teo Kok Siang delivered the only gold medal for Malaysia.
Meanwhile, the Badminton Association of Malaysia (BAM) general manager, Kenny Goh, said the faulty spotlights at the competition venue would be replaced today.
Group A: China, Japan, Sri Lanka, Cambodia.
Group B: Malaysia, India, Mongolia, Vietnam.
Group C: South Korea, Indonesia, Taiwan, Laos.
Group D: Thailand, Hong Kong, Singapore, Kazakhstan.