ASIAN GAMES 2010 Men’s Team Preview – China again?

Lin Dan and his team-mates are set for yet another gold medal in the men’s team event, with a “dream team” as a line up.  However, Malaysia, as second seeds, […]

Lin Dan and his team-mates are set for yet another gold medal in the men’s team event, with a “dream team” as a line up.  However, Malaysia, as second seeds, are in full confidence after good results recently in Delhi.  Korea and Indonesia are the dark horses for a team competition with question marks over the fitness of some of their shuttlers.

By Raphael Sachetat, live from Guangzhou. Photos: Badmintonphoto

Before Lin Dan can dream of adding the “missing gold” to his large collection of top honours, he and his team-mates will first have to deliver the team gold medal. Because no less is expected from the local crowd, who have learned to adopt the boyfriend of Guangzhou-born Xie Xingfang.  The line-up provided by Li Yongbo is as strong as ever and the recent showdown in China and Japan Super Series proves that the Chinese are not kidding.

They are prepared to defend the title they clinched in Doha, four years ago. With three shuttlers that have the talent to beat anyone in the world – Lin Dan, Bao Chunlai and Chen Jin – added to a quite fit “joker” in the name of Chen Long, China could even nail the three points needed to win a tie, relying only on singles. But Cai Yun and Fu Haifeng will be a precious help if anything goes wrong and the duo has proven lately that they are back at the top of their game, losing only twice this year, and last time in March to Denmark’s Boe and Mogensen. Since then, no one has resisted the power and speed of the Beijing silver medallists.

China is set to play Hong Kong in the second round after a bye in the first for what should be a rather smooth ride on paper. The Hong Kong shuttlers might be playing close to home as well – the city state is less than 2 hours away from Guangzhou – but the depth of their team pales in comparison to that of their mainland neighbours.

The Chinese had a last training session in Tian He Stadium on Friday and looked all rather relaxed and enjoying the last day of rest. Lin Dan and Chen Long (photo)  got to play doubles against Bao Cunlai and Chen Jin before the eyes of a focused Xia Xuanze.

Who will face China in the semis?

If China is almost assured of making it to the last four, its opponent is not as clear.  On paper, Indonesia once again looks like they should be the one, with in-form Taufik, who ended the Super Series spell last week in Paris, but who will hence have to deal with recovering from 2 weeks of hard matches in Europe and the requisite jetlag. And his compatriots Santoso and Dwi Kuncoro are yet to be seen in full power after recurrent injuries for some time now.

“I’m glad to be here even if I feel a bit tired with the two weeks spent in Europe. I was able to drop by Jakarta to see my family for one day, which is good,” said the Indonesian before hinting he was to skip the Opening Ceremony. “This is nice, but it’s too long and I have seen it since my first one in 1998. I leave that now to the young guys,” smiled the recent Yonex French Open winner.

The Indonesians will meet the winner of India vs. Chinese Taipei for quite an open tie. India could be a threat to anyone, but the list published on the official website raises questions. Only one doubles specialist, (Rupesh Kumar) and mixed doubles specialist Diju V. as a option for a partner sounds a bit of a low key to match Taipei, whose strength lies in the doubles. Unless there is an error in this list, India is clearly banking on the singles – also weakened by the recent withdrawal of their #1 Chetan Anand – to pull the 3 needed victories to advance and face the Indonesians.

The key man: Lee Hyun Il?

In the lower part of the draw, Korea and Malaysia are the two big powerhouses and unlike the Thomas Cup, Korea will not meet any big guns in the quarter-finals.  The Koreans are set to play Japan in the first quarter-final of the lower draw.  This makes for an interesting tie with Japanese players able – for each of them – to pull a surprise win over any Korean opponent. Their doubles have shown that they could be a threat to any pair, even if Lee and Jung and Ko/Yoo should prevail and give Korea a strong advantage on paper.

Park Sung Hwan (photo) has his ups and downs, but his easy win over Lin Dan in the World Championships can only make him a more confident player, while Tago hasn’t had his best season so far. But the key man – in this tie, as all along Korea’s way – could be Lee Hyun Il, who could be fielded as the third men’s singles, somewhat like former Champion Peter Rasmussen had been sent to Indonesia a few years ago to help Denmark clinch a silver medal in the Thomas Cup in 2004 – beating no less than the home team in the semi-final.

Should Korea beat Japan, they are likely to face Malaysia – even if the latter have a first tricky meeting against Thailand. Ponsana, Prapakamol, Anugritayawon and Thailand’s capable youngsters are no players to be taken lightly, but Chong Wei and Koo/Tan should still come on top of that confrontation. The expected semi-final between Korea and Malaysia, on the contrary, is an open tie and should be a delight to watch for the spectators. Once again, the key will probably be the first men’s doubles and the third men’s singles, where Korea has a chance to nail important points.

Koo Kien Keat and Tan Boon Heong are said to be well prepared and will remember that the was the competition that launched their career as they came out on top of the individual event in Doha. The clash between them and Korea’s Lee and Jung will be one of the highlights of these Games and Lee Yong Dae, on arrival in Guangzhou – carrying the flag with another hero – swimming star Park Tae Hwan, said he was ready to fight: “My last Games in Doha were unsatisfactory. I hope to make a better contribution to our team ranking this time,” he told Korea’s Arirang TV.

All five matches should be interesting even if Lee Chong Wei should bring an important first point to Malaysia – in 10 meetings, he’s been beaten only once by Park Sung Hwan.

If it is too early to predict a final yet, no matter what, this competition will see a mouth-watering tie on November 15th – next Monday.

Potential semi-finals:
China vs. Indonesia
Malaysia vs. Korea

Raphaël Sachetat

About Raphaël Sachetat

Raphael is the Chief Editor of Badzine International. He is the founder of the website together with Jean François Chauveau. After many years writing for the BWF and many publications around the world about badminton, he now leads a team of young and dynamic writers for Badzine.