Thu, Nov 30, 2006 - Page 20 News List

China's `Posh and Becks' hope to spark bling sweep

AFP , DOHA, QATAR

The "Posh and Becks" of badminton Lin Dan and fiancee Xie Xinfang will be looking to make up for China's disappointment at the last Asian Games by inspiring the team to a clean sweep in Doha.

Both have had a great year, winning their respective singles world titles in Madrid, and Asian Games glory would prove the proverbial icing on the wedding cake.

China underperformed in the last Games in Busan taking away just two titles when they were aiming for a clean sweep and coach Li Yongbo is well aware that while the fortunes of rivals Malaysia and Indonesia have dipped there is no fiercer battle than that of winning Asian bragging rights in badminton.

"We have improved a lot in the past few years to the extent that we are now the strongest," said Li, who like any good manager looking for a get out claimed a reason for their failure in Busan was down to the refereeing.

While some back in China are merely hoping for a small improvement on last time out, Li is demanding more.

"We won two titles last time now we want at least three but in fact I want more like four or five," said Li, whose team took five of the six world titles on show in Madrid.

While Li is demanding an enormous effort from his team, the managers of the other major rivals for the gold in the team competitions are playing hopes down.

"We have high expectations but it could be quite difficult to achieve them because China and Korea are around and most of their players are at the same level," said Malaysia's Misbun Bin Sedek, coach of Hashim Muhammad Hafiz. "Lin Dan is one step above."

Lin and Xie should be hot favorites for their respective titles.

Lin, 23, was a member of the bronze medal team four years ago but since then his career has reached dizzy heights.

The world title apart, he also turned in a phenomenal performance in the All England Open this year when he took the trophy despite injuring his knee during the tournament. Aside from that the soldier -- who when relaxing enjoys buying clothes for Xie -- is a real showman on court, showing untypical emotion for a Chinese sports star by ripping his shirt off at the end of a match and throwing it to the spectators.

Gunning for him, though, will be former world number one Lee Chong Wei of Malaysia, who was disappointing at the world championships and is keen to redeem himself.

"I lost in the last eight to Bao Chunlai. I was the world No. 1 at the time and maybe I felt the pressure and that is not good for me. Now I am the second seed I feel no pressure," he added.

One man bidding to show he is not on the wane is Olympic and Asian Games champion Taufik Hidayat, who is at a lowly 12th in the world -- however hopes are not high.

"We're counting on him doing well, but it is difficult to say whether he can challenge for the title," Indonesia team manager Lius Pongoh said.

Lin's fiancee Xie is a little more sober on court, but the two-time world champion knows that her major challenge to add the Asia title to her cabinet rests on beating her compatriot, Olympic champion Zhang Ning.

Xie, who enjoys singing and shopping in her spare time, is distinctly modest about her chances.

"I still think Zhang Ning is the best player on the planet," the 25-year-old said.

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