SINGAPORE - Saturday's hard-fought win over arch-rivals Malaysia helped Singapore reach the Asian Netball Championship (ANC) final and qualify for the 2023 World Cup.
The 54-41 semi-final victory meant a lot to a young national team with over half younger than 25 and with fewer than 40 caps. Not surprisingly, many players were overwhelmed by emotions at the final whistle after defeating their Causeway rivals for the second time in three days.
Wing attack Kimberly Lim, who also celebrated her 100th international cap, said: "I'm very proud of the team, we're one of the youngest here but we've really grown a lot over the past two years and this is the result of our hard work."
In Sunday's final, they will play defending champions Sri Lanka, who also qualified for the World Cup.
While their 56-43 victory over Malaysia in round two on Thursday appeared more smooth-sailing, it was not the same story on Saturday.
Although the Republic led 28-18 after two quarters, Malaysia never relented, scoring the first four goals in the third quarter. They eventually reduced the gap to just three goals going into the final quarter.
But Singapore regained their momentum and did well to improve their passing accuracy while forcing turnovers in the fourth quarter to widen the gap and seal victory.
Shooter Lee Pei Shan was a picture of composure, converting 35 of her 39 attempts. The 23-year-old, who shed tears while celebrating, gave credit to the Malaysians for giving them a tough fight.
She added: "Actually, I wasn't very calm. I had a lot of thoughts... (but) I made a promise to my team that I will take the ball and shoot, I told them to give me the ball so that every goal I shoot will give them motivation to bring down the ball more."
"This is a new team and also without Char on court, we have a lot of pressure on the shooters and the mid court players to bring out the ball and shoot," she added, referring to injured veteran Charmaine Soh.
"When I saw (that the match was over), that's when I felt more emotional as we really fought hard throughout the four quarters."
Lim said head coach Annette Bishop's pep talk before the fourth quarter made all the difference.
"Annette reminded us this is home ground, same court we've been playing on, same two poles, same people we've been playing with for the past two years, we know each other well, just go on and enjoy it," she said.
Lim added that the team will now focus on recovery ahead of the final against Sri Lanka. Singapore had lost 67-49 in an earlier encounter last week.
Lim added: "One obvious advantage that they have on us is their height, but there are ways to work around that and that'll be something we look at when we do our game plan."
Malaysia captain Nur Syafazliyana Mohd Ali admitted that they need to work on their passing and pledged to come back stronger. "We are not going back with fourth place, we need to get third," she said.
In the third-place play-off, they will be meeting Hong Kong, who lost the other semi-final 67-43 to the clinical Sri Lankan side, who have reached their sixth straight ANC final.
Sri Lanka coach Hyacinth Wijesinghe said the win gave the players and country something to celebrate amid the nation's economic crisis.
She noted that the team has not had a smooth build-up to the ANC as they were unable to go on an exposure tour before a major tournament for the first time and sometimes had to train in the dark when the power supply at their facility was disrupted.
She said: "Whatever the disturbance, I was trying my best to keep on going. I must salute the girls, they really did their best and I think the country will be very happy.
"All the teams (at the ANC) are very good. Hong Kong, Singapore, Malaysia. Those three teams are on top with us. We'll see how we are going to do in the final but we are very confident we are going to win."