MALAYSIA Tigers went down 2-1 to Indonesia Garuda in the first leg in Jakarta yesterday but Hafiz Hashim's victory over Sony Dwi Kuncoro in straight games gave his side some advantage for the return leg of the Axiata Cup semi-finals in Kuala Lumpur tomorrow.
Tigers' defeat was somehow expected as they were without Lee Chong Wei and top doubles Koo Kien Keat-Tan Boon Heong, and their chances of making it to the Axiata Cup final would have been over had Hafiz lost to Sony in the second singles.
Garuda had taken an unassailable lead after Taufik Hidayat defeated Liew Daren 21-19, 21-9 in the first singles while scratch pair Hendra Setiawan-Mohammad Ahsan beat Goh V Shem-Lim Khim Wah 21-17, 21-17. But Hafiz ensured Tigers have something to battle for in the return leg at home.
Hafiz's 21-13, 21-19 victory over Sony means Tigers can snatch a place in the final if they can beat Garuda 3-0 at KLBA Stadium.
And Chong Wei, nursing a right shoulder injury, may lead the team.
Kien Keat-Boon Heong will also be back and could either play Markis-Hendra or Mohammad Ahsan-Bona while Hafiz must beat Sony again to put Tigers in the final.
Tigers can also go through with a 2-1 victory, provided they can win their matches in straight games and also take a game off the match that they have lost to Garuda in the second leg.
National singles coach Rashid Sidek said Tigers did their best to win despite the absence of their top senior players but conceded Indonesia played better.
"Our hope was to win here in Jakarta but it looked like Indonesia were just too strong.
"We are still happy to have got one point as that gives us hope for the return leg (on Sunday) in KL," said Rashid.
Seu Bock said it is still too early to confirm whether Chong Wei will play in the second leg. Though he has been recovering well from the injury, a decision will be made today or before the match tomorrow.
However, national doubles chief coach Tan Kim Her has already confirmed that Kien Keat-Boon Heong will return to the line-up tomorrow.
Indonesian manager Mohammad Ferryansyah said: "We played well to get the win and our line-up was due to team strategy.
"We want to win this tournament and maintain our reputation as the Sea Games champions."
Malaysia Leopards will take on Indonesia Rajawali in the first leg of the other semi-final at KLBA Stadium in Cheras today.
Results -- Semi-final 1st leg: Indonesia Garuda 2 Malaysia Tigers 1 (Taufik Hidayat bt Liew Daren 21-19, 21-9; Hendra Setiawan-Mohammad Ahsan bt Lim Khim Wah-Goh V Shem 21-17, 21-17; Sony Dwi Kuncoro lost to Hafiz Hashim 13-21, 19-21).