SEA Games 2017, Aug 19-30: 2 days to go

Netball: Hosts draw first blood in netball

Members of Team Singapore, including chef de mission Milan Kwee (in sunglasses behind placard) sing the national anthem during yesterday's SEA Games welcome ceremony. The flag-raising for the 11 participating nations was held at the Bukit Jalil Natio
Members of Team Singapore, including chef de mission Milan Kwee (in sunglasses behind placard) sing the national anthem during yesterday's SEA Games welcome ceremony. The flag-raising for the 11 participating nations was held at the Bukit Jalil National Stadium.ST PHOTO: MARK CHEONG

Malaysia break 16-year hoodoo, boost their morale with 50-37 victory over Singapore

For almost an hour after their 50-37 victory over Singapore yesterday, Malaysia's netball team remained inside the Juara Stadium, with their friends, families and well-wishers descending upon them to offer congratulations.

It was a scene befitting a gold-medal celebration - and it felt like one, as they avenged their 2015 SEA Games final defeat and ended a 16-year losing streak with this group-stage victory.

It was the first time that Singapore had suffered a defeat by Malaysia since losing 42-53 in the 2001 Games final that was also held in Kuala Lumpur.

More significantly, the result was a psychological boost to the hosts as it was touted as a preview of Sunday's final, with Singapore and Malaysia a cut above the rest of the teams in the five-nation field.

It is no wonder Malaysian centre Nurfariha Abdul Razak was beaming from ear to ear as she told The Straits Times: "Today's win means everything, and this will give us more confidence in moving forward for our next match. I'm very proud of my team-mates because we kept to the plan and just stayed in the moment … and we did it."

The 22-year-old was part of the squad that drew 35-35 with Singapore in the group stage two years ago, but lost the final 43-46 at the OCBC Arena.

Yesterday, Malaysia were backed by about 400 fans who roared in delight each time their side scored. They waved Malaysian flags big and small, and Games mascot Rimau also made an appearance to get the crowd going before the match.

TRYING TOO HARD

We tried to be a bit more fanciful instead of sticking to our game plan and doing the basic plays that we do best. We wanted to do more.

CHARMAINE SOH, Singapore co-vice-captain, on her team's errors.

Singapore co-vice-captain Charmaine Soh said the crowd played a minor part in contributing to her side's nerves and rued the self-inflicted errors in the match.

"We tried to be a bit more fanciful, instead of sticking to our game plan and doing the basic plays that we do best," added the shooter, who had a 77.78 per cent shooting accuracy. "We wanted to do more."

Admitting that the loss stung, the 27-year-old still gave credit to her opponents, saying: "Malaysia played a good game and were consistent. We will continue to work hard and come back stronger the next time we meet them."

The home side had led after each of the first three quarters (14-11, 27-18, 37-26) and had an 81.97 per cent shooting accuracy, while Singapore's was 75.51 per cent.

Said captain Vanessa Lee: "I'm definitely disappointed but I know we have time to work on our game.

"We have the rest of the day to think about today's game but when we wake up in the morning, it's the next game, there's no looking back."

Singapore will face the Philippines, who lost yesterday's game 32-69 to Brunei, today.

The Singaporeans will at least be boosted by the arrival of former national coach Ruth Aitken, who had led them to the 2015 gold.

The New Zealander observed the Malaysia game and will act as a mentor for Singapore coaches during her stay.

With the round-robin phase concluding tomorrow, the top four teams will progress to the semi-finals.

Said Nurfariha: "It's not a win yet, but we'll just do our own thing and listen to our coach instead of thinking about the crowd or what Singapore will do, and hopefully that will bring us the gold back."

Singapore's other co-vice-captain Nurul Baizura added: "The score was a bit disappointing but, after all, we are looking at the process.

"It's only the round-robin stage, so we're hoping to get better from today onwards."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 17, 2017, with the headline ' Hosts draw first blood in netball'. Print Edition | Subscribe