SINGAPORE - Fireworks are always expected in a Causeway derby and a netball thriller was what Singapore and Malaysia delivered at the OCBC Arena on Thursday night.
In the first of their two-part battle against Malaysia, the hosts triumphed 56-43 in their second round match at the Asian Netball Championship to finish second in Group E. With the result in the round determining fixtures for the last four, both sides will meet again in the semi-finals on Saturday, while defending champions Sri Lanka will play Hong Kong in the other half.
The finalists at the tournament will earn a spot at the 2023 Netball World Cup.
Singapore co-captain Toh Kai Wei said: "This win is important for us. Compared to the match against Sri Lanka, we started a bit steadier this time round. We were a bit more composed and looked for more options before passing so that's one thing we need to keep in mind.
"We just had to keep spirits high. After every shot, I tend to feel a bit better and (being fired up) gives my team greater morale and it works well against the Malaysians.
"Everyone got fired up and that's the reason we started working a bit closer together and that led to the win."
Putting their speed and agility to good use on the court, Singapore put the SEA Games champions on the back foot from the get-go, storming to a 30-22 lead in the first half.
Breaking down Malaysia's tight zonal defence proved to be a challenge, but the hosts' patience won out in the end against the SEA Games champions to see them through to a 56-43 victory.
Defender Yew Shu Ning, who was playing in her first derby, relished the valuable experience of playing against more physical opponents.
The 24-year-old also credited the crowd for raising their spirits, with each turnover and goal met with loud cheers from spectators at the OCBC Arena.
She said: "The crowd's cheering gave us more morale. After every shot, it feels like they're giving us a pat on our back."
With their first battle against Malaysia done and dusted, the real test awaits Singapore in the s-finals and they will be plotting for another victory during their one-day break on Friday.
Toh, 26, said: "(We need to improve on) picking up loose balls and be more steady because during the transitions, we're quite rushed and couldn't really find options so maybe we need to tidy up on that and it'll be better play."
Malaysian coach Lisa Beehag was disappointed with the result but gave credit to Singapore, whom she had previously coached from 2008 to 2009.
She said: "We weren't ourselves today... so we'll go back and have a look at a few of our options, at what we have done in previous games and get back to doing some of that.
"We haven't played Singapore in this fast style... I don't think we adapted to the speed."
The other Group E match on Thursday saw Sri Lanka beating Hong Kong 62-51 to top the group, with Hong Kong last after losing all their second-round games.
The defending champions raced to a 37-22 lead in the first half but had to overcome a spirited comeback from Hong Kong side in the second period.
Hong Kong goal attack Elderi Wiese remained upbeat despite the loss and is confident that they can beat Sri Lanka if they play well on Saturday.
The 33-year-old said: "Obviously we're disappointed that it didn't go our way. But our team definitely gave our best. I am very happy with our performance in the sense that everyone (gave their all) right to the end.
"We just need to (have) safe hands, pass to the right options and play safe. If we really play well, they are definitely beatable."