An England team containing a mixture of youth and experience bowed out at the group stage but finished strongly at the TotalEnergies BWF Sudirman Cup in Vantaa, Finland.
Five Tokyo Olympians and two debutants were part of the 13-strong squad and Malaysia lay in wait for England’s Group D opener on Monday.
Olympic quarter-finalists Marcus Ellis and Lauren Smith were first up and narrowly went down 19-21, 18-21 against Hoo Pang Ron and Cheah Yee See in the mixed doubles.
Johnnie Torjussen’s 4-21, 15-21 defeat at the hands of Lee Zii Jia in the men’s singles meant Ben Lane and Sean Vendy’s men’s doubles clash with Tokyo bronze medallists Aaron Chia and Soh Wooi Yik became must-win.
Lane and Vendy put up a brave fight but lost a nail-biting first set 20-22 before going down 18-21 in the second to settle the outcome in Malaysia’s favour.
Wins for Abigail Holden over Kisona Selvaduray (21-16, 22-20) and the women’s doubles pairing of Smith and Chloe Birch, who overcame Tan Pearly and Thinaah Muralitharan in three sets, narrowed the overall margin of defeat.
“Marcus and Lauren were very frustrated to play below their usual level, especially when we ended up losing 3-2, as they wanted to get the team off to a good start,” said coach Julian Robertson.
“But Ben and Sean played very well against the Olympic medallists, they were very close in that first set, and Abi played out of her skin to beat a player ranked 53rd in the world. That’s a good confidence-booster for her going forward.”
The following day saw England face a strong Japan side, who ran out 5-0 winners.
Ellis and Smith were beaten in straight sets by Olympic bronze medallists Yuta Watanabe and Arisa Higashino before Torjussen put up a brave fight against world number one Kento Momota.
The 22-year-old’s smash was causing Momota plenty of problems in the first game and he looked set to take the lead, only for the Japanese star to hit back and claim it 22-20.
Momota grew in confidence thereafter and took the second set 21-10 but Torjussen learned plenty from the experience.
“It was nice to see my smashes being able to penetrate his defence,” he said.
“I think it’s definitely a big confidence booster for me, to get to that stage against the best in the world. I want to do that in future against every player.”
Lane and Vendy lost a decider against Akira Koga and Taichi Saito while Holden went down in straight sets, as did Birch and Smith, to seal England’s fate.
“It was a tough ask against a very strong team,” Robertson said.
“Johnnie was excellent in the first set against Momota and for Ben and Sean to take an up-and-coming pairing to three sets shows they can compete with the guys who will be around in the next three years leading up to Paris.”
With no chance of qualification for the latter stages, personnel changes were made for the final clash against Egypt and a youthful England side recorded a resounding 5-0 win.
Callum Hemming and Jessica Pugh enjoyed a comfortable straight-sets victory as did Torjussen and 16-year-old Estelle van Leeuwen in their respective singles clashes.
Hemming then teamed up with debutant Steven Stallwood to beat Adham Hatem Elgamal and Ahmed Salah 21-11, 21-8 before another debutant, Jessica Hopton, joined forces with Pugh to overcome Nour Ahmed Youssri and Doha Hany 21-10, 21-9.
“It was Estelle’s first win at senior level, which was great for her, and it was really nice to see the new caps play so well,” Robertson said.
“There can be nerves on your first cap but it was a comfortable win for us.
“Overall, there is a lot to learn against the better sides but hopefully we can keep improving and challenging them in the future.
“For some of our young players to have the experience of playing world-class players is invaluable. They will have learned a lot over here and hopefully they’ll put that to good use.”