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National team manager Wong Choong Hann (right) giving instructions to men’s team captain Lee Zii Jia before their departure to Manila at KLIA yesterday. -NSTP/Kng Zheng Guan

Kng Zheng Guan

Armed with masks and badminton racquets, the Malaysian team left for Manila yesterday to compete in the Asia Championships.

Amid the coronavirus pandemic, the Malaysian shuttlers will have one less thing to worry about: defending champions China won’t be around.

The teams from China and Hong Kong can’t play in the Asian championships in Manila following a travel ban on them by the Philippines.

With big guns China out of the way, the Malaysian men’s badminton team have a good chance of getting a good result in the Asian meet which also serves as a Thomas Cup qualifier. The competition gets underway at the Rizal Memorial Coliseum from tomorrow.

Lee Zii Jia, who is captaining the national team for the first time, is determined to lead Malaysia to a strong finish despite the coronavirus spectre.

The 21-year-old will be returning to the scene of his triumph, for it was in Manila that he won the Sea Games men’s singles gold recently.

“This is actually my second time in a Thomas Cup qualifier after my debut at the 2018 edition in Alor Star,” said World No 14 Zii Jia at Kuala Lumpur International Airport yesterday prior to leaving for Manila,

“It’s definitely an honour to be given a chance to lead the national team at this age.

“I am up for the challenge and I am very excited to be back competing in the Philippines.

“This is a young team as we are competing without (Lee) Chong Wei and (Soong) Joo Ven who were both my seniors.

“I am in fact the second oldest singles player (after Cheam June Wei) in the team and I am looking forward to do well and carry out the responsibility of guiding my teammates.

“Being the first singles, it also carries a lot of importance as I know I need to win in order to lift the team spirits.

“But I don’t want to put too much pressure on myself and I believe that my team will be able to back me up even if I lose. We will work well together to achieve results.”

On the tense coronavirus situation, Zii Jia said: “I feel that we shouldn’t worry too much.

“We understand that we need to wear masks in crowded places and most importantly, take care of ourselves first.”

Team manager Wong Choong Hann felt that it is more beneficial for the team to be mindful of their surroundings and take precautions than to be overly worried

“We have briefed everyone based on the standard operating procedures as advised by the National Sports Institute’s medical team,” said Choong Hann.

“We have not imposed any rules confining players to the hotel but we’ll be monitoring them.

“As for me, this is not my first time facing a virus outbreak. I experienced the SARS outbreak in 2003 and I do share my experiences with the players on how to handle themselves,” added Choong Hann.

The national men’s team are drawn with Taiwan and Singapore while the women are initially drawn with Japan and Hong Kong.

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