By : K.M. Boopathy
MALAYSIA look a cut above their rivals in the Thomas Cup qualifying round which begins in Ho Chi Minh City today, so anything other than a place in the final will be deemed a failure.
Malaysia, the top seeds, have listed their best squad save for young Arif Latif, who is being given a chance to gain experience and exposure as a singles reserve, and everything points to a likely showdown against South Korea in Sunday's final.
Lee Chong Wei, Wong Choong Hann and Hafiz Hashim make up the singles line-up while the doubles will have Koo Kien Keat-Tan Boon Heong, Choong Tan Fook-Lee Wan Wah with Zakry Latif-Fairuzizuan Tazari as reserves.
Four teams will qualify for the finals in Jakarta on May 11-18 and Malaysia should have little trouble being one of them.
However, as singles coach Misbun Sidek has urged, the players should think beyond the qualifying campaign and look to the All England in Birmingham on March 4-9.
Misbun has warned the players not to take the qualifier for granted because should any player lose, it could affect his form in the All England which comes only 10 days later.
He said the players need to win in Vietnam and then maintain or improve their form.
In Ho Chi Minh City, Malaysia are in an easy Group A with Cambodia and the Philippines, who they play tomorrow, and Taiwan, who they meet on Thursday.
Malaysia have a tricky match against either Japan or India in the quarter-finals but an upset is unlikely which means they qualify for the finals in Jakarta.
But Malaysia still have the semi-finals to play in Ho Chi Minh City and their likely opponents should be Thailand, and a win will set up a a showdown with South Korea
For the Uber Cup, Malaysia are in Group Z with India and both teams qualify for the last eight regardless of the outcome of their match on Thursday but the Malaysians will be looking for a win to avoid second seeds Korea and instead play Singapore in the quarter-finals.
A win against Singapore will most likely pit them against favourites Japan in the semi-finals which will not see them qualify for the finals as only three teams go through, so Malaysia's chances hinge on the third placing playoff.