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Badminton: Singapore's Loh Kean Yew set to face Lee Zii Jia in 'deciding' battle for Malaysia

KUALA LUMPUR — An epic battle between All England winner Lee Zii Jia and world champion Loh Kean Yew is on the cards after Malaysia and Singapore were drawn in the same group for the Badminton Asia Team Championships (BATC) next week.

Badminton: Singapore's Loh Kean Yew set to face Lee Zii Jia in 'deciding' battle for Malaysia

The titanic showdown between Malaysia's Lee Zii Jia and the Singapore's Loh Kean Yew (pictured) is sure to take centerstage at the Setia City Convention Centre in Shah Alam, Malaysia, especially in the absences of big names like Kento Momota of Japan and Antony Sinisuka Ginting of Indonesia.

KUALA LUMPUR — An epic battle between All England winner Lee Zii Jia and world champion Loh Kean Yew is on the cards after Malaysia and Singapore were drawn in the same group for the Badminton Asia Team Championships (BATC) next week.

The other two teams in Group B for the men's event are second seeds Japan and newcomers Kazakhstan, while Group A consists of defending champions Indonesia, India, South Korea and Hong Kong.

The titanic showdown between Zii Jia and the Penang-born Kean Yew is sure to take centre stage at the Setia City Convention Centre in Shah Alam, especially in the absence of big names like Kento Momota of Japan and Antony Sinisuka Ginting of Indonesia.

It will be an intriguing matchup between two childhood rivals after a couple of encounters last year. Kean Yew became an overnight hit in the Lion City following his World Championships heroics in Huelva, Spain in December.

Since facing Kean Yew in the Hylo Open final in Germany in November, world No 7 Zii Jia has controversially quit the national team to turn professional, while the Singaporean continued training with Olympic champion Viktor Axelsen of Denmark at the world renowned Nad Al Sheba Sports Complex in Dubai.

Zii Jia, 24, had clashed four times with Kean Yew, with the last two meetings in the latter's favour.

Malaysia's national men's singles head coach, Mr Hendrawan, who represented Badminton Association of Malaysia at Tuesday's (Feb 8) draw ceremony, admitted that Malaysia's chances of reaching the Asian semi-finals very much depend on Zii Jia.

"I believe that Zii Jia will be the deciding factor when we play Singapore because after his 50-50 performance last season, he must try to win that important point. If he does, we have a very good chance," said Mr Hendrawan.

"Against Japan and Kazakhstan, we have players like Ng Tze Yong and Leong Jun Hao, but after coming down with Covid-19 recently, we can't say for sure how good they are until we assess them during the tournament.

"Having said that, our target remains the same, and that is to qualify for the semi-finals first. We will take it from there."

On Zii Jia's form, Mr Hendrawan said: "It's hard for me to comment on him, as he is no longer under the national programme.

"We can still rely on our men's doubles Aaron Chia-Soh Wooi Yik, as well as our other men's singles like Tze Yong, Jun Hao, Aidil Sholeh (Ali Sadikin), Lim Chong King and Jacky Kok.

"There are a few major team events this year, including the Asian and Commonwealth Games. We hope the BATC will give these players the experience to handle the pressure in the upcoming events," he added.

Due to Covid-19 issues, top teams like China, Thailand and Taiwan have decided to skip the BATC, which also serves as a qualifier for the Thomas and Uber Cup finals in Bangkok in May.

With only eight teams competing in the men's event, there will be no quarter-finals. Instead, the top two teams from each group will advance to the semi-finals, and earn automatic qualification to the Thomas Cup finals.

On whether Malaysia has an advantage with the reduced number of teams, Mr Hendrawan said: "Not really, I think it would have been better for our younger players to gain experience if there were more teams competing.

"However, I still think we got a favourable draw and am certain that every player in the team will get his chance to play at the BATC."

Meanwhile, in the seven-team women's event, Malaysia is in for a stiffer challenge as they are in Group Y with defending champions Japan and India. Group Z consists of South Korea, Indonesia, Hong Kong and Kazakhstan.

At the BATC two years ago, the Malaysian men's team entered the final before losing 3-1 to Indonesia, while the women's team surprisingly reached the semi-finals before losing 3-0 to Japan. NEW STRAITS TIMES

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