China badminton coach defends team after Thomas Cup shock

Kunshan (China) (AFP) –


China's national badminton coach Li Yongbo declared his players were still among the best in the world but urged fans to be patient and expect occasional defeats after the host's shock exit from the Thomas Cup.

Under Li's leadership China have dominated badminton for the past decade, but unease is mounting that the team's golden era may be coming to an end.

On Thursday, China's men were knocked out of the quarter-finals of the world badminton team championship after South Korea defeated them 3-1 -- the first time they have failed to reach the Thomas Cup semi-finals since 1982.

Following the defeat, fans booed and hissed as the team exited the court in Kunshan, near Shanghai, with some in the audience chanting: "Li Yongbo quit!"

Coach Li said that despite the upset the men's team were still among the best globally and called on fans to be more "understanding".

"Of course China's men's badminton team is always one of the best in the world," Li said late Saturday.

"We have to be eager for victory all the time, but we have to accept failure. If we win too much sometimes questions will come: 'Is it positive for promoting badminton in the world?' but if we lose sometimes questions will also come, that is the fact."

The coach said his players faced expectations similar to the Brazilian men's national football team and the US's basketball squad -- where winning is the norm and losses are rare.

- Chen backed -

"This is like, for example, Brazil's football and America's basketball. If they lose one or two times, nobody can deny that they are still the top team in the world. So I hope all the fans, all the media, all the friends have more understanding and tolerance towards us," Li told reporters.

The head coach also stridently defended his choice to field top-ranked Chen Long as the number one singles player in team competition over other top Chinese talent, such as legend Lin Dan, despite Chen's recent inconsistent run.

Chen admitted he suffered an attack of the nerves in his 87-minute scrap with South Korea's Son Wan-ho, which Chen lost 12-21, 21-16, 15-21.

Following the upset, Chen said he was grappling with intense pressure as the world's number one, a position which means that every opponent is determinmed to knock him off his perch.

"He's humble with everyone, nice to everyone but sometimes his personality may lack some power so that influences him sometimes on the court," said Li.

"As long as Chen Long is happy and as long as he enjoys badminton I still support him and will always support him."

But concerns are mounting that this week's performance may augur poorly for China as they prepare for the Rio Olympics in August.

Li confirmed Saturday that Chen and Lin would represent China in the men's singles event, but cautioned that competition was fierce among badminton's elite.

"If they are not careful enough, they can lose in the Olympics," said Li.