PETALING JAYA: It will only be considered a successful outing for Malaysia in the Thomas-Uber Cup qualifying tournament if the men emerge as the champions and the women qualify for the Finals on merit.
But, on paper, it looks easier for the men than the women to make it a double joy for Malaysia in the Asian qualifiers, which begins today in Ho Chi Minh City.
The Malaysian men will swing into action tomorrow when they take on the Philippines and Cambodia in their Group A ties.
The women, meanwhile, will begin their campaign against India in Group D on Thursday.
In the absence of defending champions China and Indonesia, who will host the Finals from May 11-19 in Jakarta, there is no reason for the Malaysian men not to emerge champions.
Their only stumbling block will be South Korea, who are powered by the resurgent Lee Hyun-il.
National chief coach Yap Kim Hock said their priority was to improve the players’ individual world rankings.
“The target for the men here is to win one of the four slots for the Finals. But the main concern is for the players to improve their world standings,” said Kim Hock in a telephone interview from Ho Chi Minh City.
“Currently, the Malaysian men’s team are ranked fourth (behind China, Indonesia and Denmark) and we want to be seeded second at the Finals in Jakarta.
“The tournament is also important for several of our men’s singles and doubles players as far as collecting Olympic qualifying points are concerned. This will be an extra motivation for them to win all their matches.”
World No. 2 Lee Chong Wei will lead the men’s team. The others in the team are Wong Choong Hann, Mohd Hafiz Hashim, Mohd Arif Abdul Latif, Koo Kien Keat-Tan Boon Heong, Choong Tan Fook-Lee Wan Wah and Mohd Fairuzizuan Mohd Tazari-Mohd Zakry Abdul Latif.
Seasoned campaigner Choong Hann, Hafiz and Fairuzizuan-Zakry are the ones determined to strengthen their bids to qualify for the Beijing Olympics.
Kim Hock said the women, led by China Open champion Wong Mew Choo, had a fighting chance of making the top three. (Only the top three nations get automatic berths to the Finals.)
But even if Malaysia were to finish fourth, they could still have a shot at making it to the Finals.
“Scotland are the fourth-ranked team in the European Zone. If Malaysia finish fourth here (at the qualifiers), we will make it to the Finals because we are ranked higher than the Scottish team,” said Kim Hock.
A new Badminton World Federation (BWF) rule states that only one of the fourth-ranked teams at the European and Asian Zones will make it to the Finals based on their overall world rankings.
“But I want the women to look beyond that. I want them to try and reach the Finals on merit,” said Kim Hock.
Malaysia have to beat India tomorrow if they want to avoid facing South Korea in the quarter-finals.
If they can do that, they should meet Singapore in the last eight.
Malaysia’s likely semi-final opponents are Japan. If they lose to Japan, they can still qualify for the Finals as their third-placing playoff could be against either Hong Kong or Taiwan.
The only time that the Malaysian girls have made it to the Finals on merit was in 2004 – but that was achieved on home ground.