SINGAPORE - Never in their careers would the Singapore men's badminton team have imagined themselves cheering on arch rivals Malaysia in any tournament, but that was exactly what they did on Friday (Feb 18) at the Badminton Asia Team Championships in Selangor.
And a day of drama ended in delight for the Singaporean shuttlers, who are assured of at least a historic bronze after qualifying for the semi-finals for the first time - courtesy of some help from the Malaysians.
After defeating Kazakhstan 5-0 in their final Group B match on Friday, Singapore needed the hosts to beat Japan in order to finish second in their group and advance to the semi-finals.
And what a nail-biting few hours it was, as they camped in their hotel rooms with their hearts in their mouths, cheering on their neighbours who were locked in an intense battle with Japan.
Malaysia delivered - but only just - in a 3-2 win that sees them go through as group winners to face South Korea, while group runners-up Singapore take on defending champions Indonesia at the Setia City Convention Centre on Saturday.
All semi-finalists will also earn a spot at the May 8-15 Thomas Cup in Thailand, with this being Singapore's third outing at the prestigious event.
Already through to the last four after beating Singapore and Kazakhstan 5-0 earlier, Malaysia were surprisingly off-colour against a Japanese side bereft of top players like world No. 2 Kento Momota.
Malaysia's world No. 7 Lee Zii Jia laboured to a 15-21, 21-6, 21-15 win over 343rd-ranked Riku Hatano in the men's singles but their world No. 7 men's doubles pair Aaron Chia and Soh Wooi Yik suffered a shock 23-21, 21-16 loss to 857th-ranked Ayato Endo and Yuta Takei.
World No. 112 Aidil Sholeh then lost 19-21, 21-16, 21-15 to unranked Koo Takahashi, and Singapore were one game away from elimination before world No. 17 duo Goh Sze Fei and Nur Izzuddin levelled the overall scores with a come-from-behind 17-21, 21-17, 21-17 win over unranked Haruya Nishida and Shuntaro Mezaki.
Singapore's fate then rested in the hands of Malaysia's world No. 126 and former World Junior Championships silver medallist Leong Jun Hao, who came good with a 21-18, 21-16 win over the unranked Koshiro Moriguchi.
Singapore had an easier time in their encounter with Kazakhstan, as world champion Loh Kean Yew overcame 429th-ranked Artur Niyazov 21-12, 21-17 in 25 minutes in the first singles.
World No. 104 Jason Teh then eased to a 21-12, 21-8 victory over 696th-ranked Khaitmurat Kulmatov in the second singles before Lim Ming Hong beat the similarly unranked Makhsut Tajibullayev 21-12, 21-14 in the next match.
With the tie settled, world No. 794 Junsuke Kubo and Wesley Koh beat Jangir Ibraev and Ilya Lysenko 21-3, 21-5 before world No. 247 Danny Bawa Chrisnanta and Andy Kwek similarly cruised past Andrey Shalagin and Tajibullayev 21-7, 21-5 to complete the sweep.