KUALA LUMPUR: Top seeds Malaysia should have no problem claiming one of the four spots to the Thomas Cup Finals from the Asian Zone qualifying tournament in Ho Chi Minh City from Feb 19-24.
But it will be a tough task for the women’s team in the Uber Cup qualifiers following a decision by the Badminton World Federation (BWF) to only award three automatic qualifying berths.
Asia can still claim an extra spot in the Finals if the fourth-placed team are ranked higher than their European counterparts. This will be determined by the world rankings on Feb 28.
The Uber Cup Finals will be held simultaneously with the Thomas Cup Finals in Jakarta from May 11-18.
And the slight change in awarding qualifying spots for the Uber Cup is no good news for Malaysia to make it on merit.
The 11 teams for the Asian qualifiers were drawn into four groups for the first round of competition and Malaysia, who are seeded third, will fight it out with India to determine who top Group Z.
Malaysia are expected to win the tie against India, who can only boast of a notable singles player in Saina Nehwal.
In the knockout second stage, Malaysia are expected to play against Singapore, who should take the runners-up spot behind top seeds South Korea in Group X.
If Malaysia advance, it will get very difficult to stay alive in the fight for one of the three automatic spots to the Finals. The semi-final opponents could be Japan, Hong Kong or Taiwan.
China Open champion Wong Mew Choo, Julia Wong, Anita Raj Kaur, Lydia Cheah form the singles line-up for Malaysia and the doubles pairs are world number 10 Wong Pei Tty-Chin Eei Hui, Lim Pek Siah-Haw Chiou Hwee and Ng Hui Lin-Goh Liu Ying.
National chief coach Yap Kim Hock said: “I believe we are stronger than India and Singapore.
“The first objective is to beat India to avoid facing South Korea next. If we achieve that, we should meet Singapore and we have a good chance of beating them to reach the semi-finals because they do not have their top player (Li Li).
“We are likely to face Japan if we enter the semi-finals. If we fail to make it there, we still have a chance in the third place playoff (against Hong Kong or Taiwan).”
For the Thomas Cup qualifiers, Malaysia are in Group A with Taiwan, the Philippines and Cambodia.
Based on current strength, Malaysia should top the group and face the easy prospect of beating India to enter the semi-finals, which will give them a ticket to Jakarta.
China, as holders of both the Thomas and Uber Cups, are automatic qualifiers along with hosts Indonesia.