There were no surprises in the remaining two Group 1 quarter-finals of the Sudirman Cup badminton mixed team championships at the Guangxi Sports Centre Gymnasium in Nanning on Friday.
The No 2 seeds, Japan, marched inexorably towards a likely final showdown with hosts China by brushing aside a youthful Malaysia with a 3-0 scoreline, but third-ranked Indonesia had to labour hard to sideline Chinese Taipei by a 3-2 margin, using their awesome all-round doubles strength to edge out the opponents.
Malaysia did have a chance of wresting a point back from the formidable Japanese line-up, when Ong Yew Sin and Teo Ee Yi did everything but get past the World no 3 men's doubles combination of Takeshi Kamura and Keigo Sonoda, in what turned out to be the longest and most bitterly contested match of the week-long tournament, lasting 95 minutes.
The Japanese pair eventually ended up as victors in a match that neither pair deserved to lose. It took Kamura and Sonoda three match-points to close out the encounter at 13-21, 26-24, 23-21 as they fortuitously put their team into the lead.
What didn't appear on the score-sheet was the fact that a terrible facial injury to Teo almost called a premature halt to the contest. Ong readied himself up for a full-blooded smash, and found his partner suddenly looking back and being struck flush in the face with the racket. Despite bleeding profusely from the terrible blow, and having to receive courtside attention, the gallant Malaysian opted to continue, but sadly ended up on the losing side.
There were no further alarms for the Japanese as their 2017 world champion, Nozomi Okuhara, efficiently disposed off Soniia Cheah by a 21-16, 21-13 verdict in 43 minutes, and reigning world champion Kento Momota took his own sweet time to post the winning point with a 53-minute 21-18, 21-16 scoreline against Lee Zii Jia.
The 24 year old Japanese left-hander rarely exerted himself, but did just enough in his deceptively languid style to eke out the win over the inexperienced 21 year old Malaysian, and render the women's and mixed doubles matches superfluous to the needs of qualification for the semi-finals.
The Indonesians, who had won the Sudirman Cup in its inaugural edition at Jakarta in 1989, but were unable to win it again in 13 subsequent editions, were outplayed in the two singles events, but had sufficient firepower in the paired events to squeeze through the encounter that went the full distance.
The world No 1 men's doubles combination of Marcus Fernaldi Gideon and Kevin Sanjaya Sukamuljo were too quick and authoritative for Lee Yang and Wang Chi-lin, as they posted a controlled 21-17, 21-17 win in 44 minutes. Tai Tzu Ying was just as superior to former world junior champion Gregoria Mariska Tunjung, and took only two minutes more than the half-hour to win at 21-16, 21-14.
The Taiwanese took a 2-1 lead in the tie when World no 3, Chou Tien Chen proved too good for 2018 Asian champion, Jonatan Christie, administering a comprehensive 21-11, 21-13 drubbing in 36 minutes. Christie was strangely subdued on Friday, and reinforced the widely held feeling that he plays at his best only within his native Indonesia, and is typically a lion in his own den and a lamb abroad.
Taipei needed to win one of the two remaining doubles in order to step into the semi-finals, but they were rarely given a chance. The Indonesian women's doubles pair of Greysia Polii and Apriyani Rahayu was miles ahead of Pai Yu Po and Wu Ti Jung, who were roundly thrashed at 21-13, 21-7 in 36 minutes.
There was a bit more resistance from the Taiwanese mixed doubles duo of Wang Chi-lin (playing his second match of the tie) and Hsieh Pei Shan, but they could not lower the colours of Praveen Jordan and his relatively new partner Melati Daeva Oktavianti, and lost at 17-21, 15-21 in 50 minutes. Jordan, who had formed a fairly successful combination with the since-retired Debby Susanto, was the controlling force behind the Indonesian mixed doubles triumph.
Saturday's semi-finals will see hosts China taking on unconsidered Thailand in the first of the elite group penultimate-round ties in morning, while the Indonesians and Japanese cross swords with one another in the evening.
The all-round strength of both the top-seeded Chinese and the No 2 seeds, Japan, makes the task of the Thais and Indonesians look akin to a bridge too far; and it will require a minor miracle to prevent a final showdown on Sunday between the two modern-day giants of the shuttle sport.