19 Nov 2006
K. M. Boopathy
CHIEF coach Yap Kim Hock, buoyed by a favourable Asian Games draw yesterday, is pinning his hopes on the mens team to deliver the one gold target set by the BA of Malaysia while Rexy Mainaky believes Malaysia can still end the gold drought in the mens doubles.
Malaysia should make the mens team semi-finals by topping Group C, comprising Hong Kong and Japan, and should meet defending champions South Korea, who are with Thailand and Vietnam in Group B.
Favourites China are in a tough Group A with Indonesia and India where only one will advance to the semi-finals while the last semi-final spot will be decided in a playoff among the three teams who finish second in the preliminary stage.
Indonesia, who should qualify through the playoffs, could meet China again.
Kim Hock felt Malaysia stand a good chance of reaching the final as they had beaten South Korea in the Thomas Cup qualifying round in Jaipur, India, in February and Thomas Cup Finals in Tokyo in May.
Malaysia last won an Asian Games gold in Bangkok 36 years ago.
P. Gunalan won the mens singles and captured the doubles with Ng Boon Bee. Malaysia won another gold, in the mixed doubles, through Boon Bee and Sylvia Ng.
The mens singles in Doha also presented Malaysia with medal winning opportunities.
Second seed Lee Chong Wei should have no problem against Boonsak Ponsana of Thailand in the quarter-finals and could play either defending champion Taufik Hidayat or Bao Chunlai of China in the semi-final.
Hafiz Hashim also has a fighting chance when he takes on joint third seed Lee Hyun Il of South Korea in the last eight, and a win could pit him against top seed Lin Dan of China.
"Overall, the draw has been good for us and we stand a good chance in the mens team and singles.
BAMs target is a gold medal and we will give our best shot to achieve it," said Kim Hock.
"We have avoided China and Indonesia and we can match South Korea. It will be too early to say we can reach the final but the chances are there.
"Chong Wei and Hafiz can earn a medal by reaching the last four and anything beyond that will depend on the performance of the players.
"The good thing is that both have avoided playing Taufik, and he has a tough quarter-final match against Chunlai.
"We have an outside chance in the womens singles, womens doubles and even mixed doubles but we have received a tough draw in the mens doubles."
However, doubles coach Rexy, a four-times Games gold medallist, believes the draw is a blessing in disguise and will actually bring the best out of his charges, Lin Woon Fui-Fairuzizuan Tazari and Koo Kien Keat-Tan Boon Heong.
Woon Fui-Fairuzizuan will have to fight all the way to win a medal.
The joint third seeds received a bye in the first round but play the dangerous Zheng Bo-Guo Zhendong of China in the second round.
A win will pit them against Indonesians Luluk Hadiyanto-Alven Yulianto in the last eight before setting up a semi-final showdown with second seeds Jung Jae Sung-Lee Yong Dae of South Korea.
Kien Keat-Boon Heong, who have an easy first round against Bruneis Jafar Hasan-Sayed Hasan, face their first test against South Koreans Lee Jae Jin-Hwang Ji Man in the second round before taking on world champions and top seeds Fu Haifeng-Cai Yun of China in the last eight.
If they can overcome the difficult hurdle, joint third seeds Markis Kido-Hendra Setiawan of Indonesia await in the last four.
However, Rexy is optimistic both pairs can can surprise and the gold medal target could be achieved.
"I still regard it as a good draw and our pairs have the ability to earn gold. It will not be easy but they can prove a point," said Rexy.
"Woon Fui-Fairuzizuan should beat Zheng Bo-Zhendong and they have also beaten Luluk-Alven. Jae Sung and Yong Dae may be hard to beat but the pressure will be on the Koreans.
In the womens singles, Wong Mew Choo may return with a medal if she can overcome Adrianti Firdasari of Indonesia in the second round and joint third seed Wang Chen of Hong Kong in the last eight. Mew Choo plays Matar Roula of Syria in the first round.