SHAH ALAM - One by one, they strolled around the Shah Alam Stadium pitch, taking in the cavernous though still empty 80,000-seat grounds two hours before the match against Malaysia on Wednesday night (Aug 16).
It was a deliberate move by Singapore coach Richard Tardy to get his players psychologically ready for the game against one of the pre-tournament SEA Games football favourites.
For 67 minutes, that piece of preparation worked as the Young Lions were unbowed by the occasion and played like a pride of grown-up Lions.
Dismissed by many given their poor form, inexperience and facing the hosts backed by almost 33,000 of their countrymen, Singapore defied all these factors to take a shock first-half lead through midfielder Amiruldin Nodin's stunning 30m left-foot strike.
But that all changed in a six-minute spell as Malaysia coach Ong Kim Swee, who won this competition in 2011, showed his Midas touch.
His substitutes Azam Azih and Thanabalan Nadarajah scored in the 68th and 74th minute to complete the 2-1 comeback over their fierce rivals.
It was a second straight win for the Harimau Muda in Group A to begin their hunt for a seventh Games football title while it was back-to-back defeats for the Republic, who lost 0-2 to Myanmar on Monday, and are most unlikely to make the semi-finals.
They next face Laos on Friday at the Selayang Stadium on Friday at 4pm, before taking on Brunei next Wednesday (Aug 23).
Myanmar beat Laos 3-1 in the other Group A game, meaning they and Malaysia are virtually certain to make the final four.
Expectations of a seventh Games football gold for Malaysia are building. They have hosted the Games five times previously and reached the final as hosts all but once (1965 when they finished fourth) and won the gold twice (1977 and 1989) in front of their home fans.
Like the hosts, they were eliminated at the group stage of the 2015 Games in Singapore but the Harimau Muda have since made the headlines for the right reasons.
Malaysia next face Myanmar on Monday at the Shah Alam Stadium.
Malaysia and Singapore have now met 15 times in the SEA Games, with the former winning five times compared to the latter's three, while other matches ended in draws (over 90 minutes).