Absence of Momota and Tago cripple Japan's Thomas Cup team
Thomas Cup: Champs Japan look forward to life without stars
Reigning champions Japan will have to get on with life without their two stars as they prepare their title defence for this year's Thomas Cup Finals will be held in Kunshan, China from May 15-22.
From an all-time high in badminton in 2014 when they won the coveted crown, Japan's badminton hit an all-time low following the suspension of Kento Momota and Kenicchi, both of whom played a pivotal role in the team's historic win in New Delhi.
Former world junior champion, Momota and six-time Japan national champion Tago were dropped from the Nippon national team after they were found to have been involved in betting at illegal casinos which are linked to organised crime in Japan. This has severely weakened the Japanese side as they get ready to do battle in China later this month.
But clearly, winning is not everything to the Japanese who have zero tolerance for indiscipline. Nippon Badminton Association secretary-general Kinji Zeniya described Momota's and Tago's behaviour as gross indiscipline. As players "they have serious responsibility to society."
Tago and Momota admitted their involvement in betting at illegal casinos and were dropped not just from the Thomas Cup but also the Rio de Janeiro Olympics in August.
Without doubt the Momota and Tago will be sorely missed not only in the Thomas Cup but also the Olympics. Japan will be hard pressed to retain the Thomas Cup against the likes of China who are seeded No 1 and drawn in the same group as the champions
Japan maybe the defending champions but they are seeded only fifth. The others in the group are France and Mexico.
for the Nippon BA the show must go on without the two stars. For the Thomas Cup Finals in Kunshan they turned to others who are capable of holding their own against the best on their day. With the top two teams in the group advancing to the elimination round Japan still have the firepower to join China.
Japan's highest ranked player in the men's singles is Sho Sasaki at No 27 in the latest Badminton World Federation (BWF) ranking list issued on May 5 while Takuma Ueda is No 44. The other singles players named to the Thomas Cup team are newcomers Kazumasa Sakai (No 83) and Riichi Takeshita (No 97).
In the men's doubles, Hiroyuki Endo-Kenichi Hayakawa are ranked No 7 while Keigo Sonoda-Takeshi Kamaru are No 16 and Noriyasu Hirata-Hirokatsu Hashimoto No 25 - all of whom played in New Delhi.
Japan's previous best in the Thomas Cup before winning the title in 2014 was reaching the semi-finals in 2010 and 2012 apart from qualifying for the quarter-finals in 2006 and 2008.
The Japanese Thomas Cup Team
Sho Sasaki, Takuma Ueda, Kazumasa Sakai, Riichi Takeshita, Hiroyuki Endo, Kenichi Hayakawa, Takeshi Kamura, Keigo Sonoda, Takuro Hoki, Yuku Kobayashi.