KUALA LUMPUR • From the coaches' serious expressions and vigorous hand gestures during the final time-out, one would think that the Singapore and Thailand water polo teams were locked in a close game at the National Aquatic Centre yesterday.
Yet the scoreboard told a different story - Singapore were in fact holding an 11-goal lead with just over two minutes of play left, and would later win the match 13-2.
So what was the Republic's coach Dejan Milakovic so concerned about during that time-out?
"We cannot play too relaxed. We need to think about what we need to do and (how) we need to play," the Serb, who took up the post in February, explained.
Captain Loh Zhi Zhi acknowledged that these reminders played a big part in how the team kept their concentration throughout.
"We have team talks every quarter as well as (during) the breaks, so he will remind us on what to focus on and what we need to do," he said. "In the pool, we are communicating all the time and telling one another if we needed help."
Singapore, 26-time winners of this event, dominated throughout thanks to their strong defence.
They were 4-0 up in the first quarter. Sean Ang scored the second quarter's only goal, and he as well as Loh netted twice in the third before Thailand could even reply through Meathus Chetamee.
The Republic continued to widen the scoreline in the final quarter before Pinit Chaisombat completed the scoring for Thailand just before the final whistle.
Milakovic, however, expects a stronger showing from his charges when they face the Philippines today. Attributing the minor mistakes made in areas like passing and attacking to nerves as they started their Games campaign, he said: "Our defence was not bad today… we just have to continue tomorrow. In attack, we should have a better percentage of shots."
Loh added: "Letting in only two goals was pretty impressive for us, and we want to continue that and improve our defensive performance, as well as our offence."
Thailand coach Alfonso Merino said his side performed better after their 7-9 loss to the Philippines on Tuesday, but it was not enough.
Said the Spaniard: "We need to improve in this competition if we want a medal or to win a match.
"Today we played with a good team. Singapore have experience and have improved under their new coach - if they continue this good work, they can reach the same level as Japan or China."
For now, however, the Singapore players are keeping their focus firmly on the next game.
Said Loh: "We're just confident in the process and going game by game every day, we're not thinking too far.
"We trust in what coach has prepared us to do, and we're prepared to do what we've been training to."
In the women's event, Singapore clinched their second straight win, beating hosts Malaysia 12-6 yesterday to follow up on their 7-6 victory over Indonesia on Tuesday.