SEA Games 2017, Aug 19-30: 3 days to go

Water polo: Nervy water polo girls nearly blow big lead before win

Angeline Teo taking a shot against Indonesia at the National Aquatics Centre in Bukit Jalil. She scored a hat-trick in Singapore's 7-6 win as the team fended off a strong Indonesian comeback in the final period.
Angeline Teo taking a shot against Indonesia at the National Aquatics Centre in Bukit Jalil. She scored a hat-trick in Singapore's 7-6 win as the team fended off a strong Indonesian comeback in the final period.ST PHOTO: MARK CHEONG

Holding a 5-1 lead after three quarters, Singapore's water polo women huddled in a group before the start of the fourth quarter and let out a yell that resembled a battle cry.

Yet it was their opponents Indonesia who were stirred instead, as they then stepped up their game to almost pull off a sensational comeback in the final period at the National Aquatics Centre yesterday.

As the final whistle blew to seal Singapore's narrow 7-6 win, relief was written all over the victors' faces, as Indonesia's Rani Raida had netted her side's final goal with just 14 seconds to go.

Singapore coach Lee Sai Meng reckoned that his charges were "a bit too excited" in the last quarter, and it was the main reason for their opponents' late surge.

"The nerves got the better of them towards the end, and that's when the Indonesian team punished us," he said. "Credit to Indonesia for fighting all the way, and our girls really held them off all the way till the end."

After a goal-less first quarter, Singapore opened the scoring through Ng Yi Wen. Raida equalised, but Angeline Teo landed a shot home to put the 2011 champions 2-1 ahead at half-time.

A dominant display in the third quarter saw Singapore bag three goals through Teo, Loke En Yuan and captain Gina Koh, who scored an amazing goal from almost half the pool's length away.

Indonesia roared back to outscore Singapore 5-2 in the last quarter, but the two goals from Ng and Teo were just enough to give the Republic their one-goal win.

Koh vowed that "hiccups" such as communication within the team would be improved before their next match against hosts Malaysia today.

"More talking before and during the game will help us build that sense of communication and sense of awareness of our surroundings," added the 25-year-old.

"We are as prepared as we can get to come to these Games, so we will just look at how we can unleash our potential for these games."

Some of the Indonesian players wept in disappointment after the game, but coach Zoran Kontic was encouraged by their last-quarter performance.

Said the 47-year-old Serb: "I must congratulate my team for fighting till the end. I'm sure, because of this crying, they will give 200 per cent in the next match.

"The Singapore team did what we expected. We were inexperienced, in the end we woke up and started to focus, but there wasn't enough time."

Singapore are seeking to regain the gold from Thailand, who pipped them 5-4 at the 2015 Games in Singapore.

The Republic won gold in Indonesia in 2011, when the women's competition made its debut but the event was not included in the 2013 edition in Myanmar.

The four-team round-robin competition comprises sides from Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 16, 2017, with the headline 'Nervy water polo girls nearly blow big lead before win'. Print Edition | Subscribe