China juggernaut rolls into badminton Sudirman Cup
Cai Yun (R) and Fu Haifeng (L) of China, pictured in action during the Hong Kong Open badminton tournament, on November 25, 2012. China look set to confirm their dominance of world badminton when the Sudirman Cup gets under way on Sunday as their rivals try to find a way to prevent a ninth Chinese team championship in the event.
The 13th edition of the tournament -- held every two years -- is hosted this time by Malaysia, and even without superstar Lin Dan the defending champs may have too much firepower and all-around depth for the other 11 competitors.
All-England champion Chen Long, the world's No. 2-ranked shuttler, has become a force and his recent victories over world No. 1 Lee Chong Wei of Malaysia give him added confidence as he headlines the Chinese campaign.
The Chinese also boast arguably the best men's pairs team in reigning world champs and 2012 Olympic gold medallists Cai Yun and Fu Haifeng, who have looked nearly unbeatable.
Their women are just as strong with reigning world singles champion Wang Yihan and 2012 Olympic gold medallist Li Xuerui leading the charge.
Indonesia, India, Thailand, South Korea, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Germany, Taiwan, Denmark, Japan and Singapore will be aiming to derail the Chinese locomotive in the tournament, which runs to May 26.
The Chinese are grouped with India and Indonesia, and the top two teams will qualify for the quarter-finals, where a second round of seedings based on the latest world rankings will determine match-ups for the knock-out stages.
Last year's runners-up Denmark, who are grouped with Singapore and Japan, will be hard-pressed to maintain their impressive record of making the semis following the recent retirements of stalwart Peter Gade and women's star Tine Baun.
The Europeans have reached 10 Sudirman Cup semi-finals but never the overall title.
South Korea have won it three times and Indonesia once, but China have owned it since 1995, winning eight of the last nine Sudirman Cups, including the last four.
Traditional power Indonesia's fortunes have slid in recent years, and while they were third two years ago, they may struggle to reach the semi-finals.
Thailand, meanwhile, are no longer the minnows of badminton, with fresh-faced youngster Ratchanok Inthanon, the All-England finalist and India Open champion, expected to continue her strong run of form.
Bolstered by another emerging force in men's singles player Tanongsak Saensomboonsuk and versatile veteran Boonsak Ponsana, Thailand are favoured to qualify from their group.
Malaysia, led by favourite son and top-ranked shuttler Lee Chong Wei, and perennial powers South Korea also are expected to make the final four.
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