SEA Games: Singapore's football and netball teams hit the ground running

Singapore's netball team arriving at their hotel after a training session yesterday at the Juara Stadium, where they will open their campaign against Brunei tomorrow.
Singapore's netball team arriving at their hotel after a training session yesterday at the Juara Stadium, where they will open their campaign against Brunei tomorrow.ST PHOTO: MARK CHEONG

Netballers and footballers start training right after arriving in KL, following delay at airport

Barely hours after arriving in Kuala Lumpur yesterday as the first batch of Team Singapore athletes for the 29th SEA Games, the country's netball and football teams were out training in a demonstration that they mean business in Malaysia.

The netballers are defending champions, but are taking nothing for granted in their bid to win back-to-back golds, while the footballers are relishing their role as underdogs and are determined to prove they can compete with the region's best.

Both teams open their campaigns tomorrow against Brunei and Myanmar respectively.

For shooter Jocelyn Ng, even the brief 20 minutes spent on court were important to get her and her team-mates used to their surroundings.

The 25-year-old was pleasantly surprised to find that the court at the Juara Stadium in Bukit Kiara, where the week-long netball competition will take place, felt "just like home".

Explaining that the pole at the stadium was similar to that at the OCBC Arena where the netballers train, Ng said: "We may not get used to the poles in other countries because of the different way the ball bounces off the rim, but today, it felt familiar.

"The shooters all felt good after today's practice, so that's a good sign. I feel really excited and I can't wait to start our first game."

Both the netball and football teams were delayed at Kuala Lumpur International Airport due to some logistical issues, but the netball players were in good spirits despite their training session being cut short as a result of the hiccup.

In fact, they made the most of it - while the shooters practised their shots, the others indulged in a game of "catching", said captain Vanessa Lee. "We wanted to work our legs a little, so we decided to run around and have a bit of fun just before the Games start; it's our way of getting players to relax a little before the match.

"We're just happy to be here to start the SEA Games."

Singapore won the netball title two years ago on home soil but are a much-changed side following the retirement of veterans Micky Lin, Premila Hirubalan and Chen Hui Fen.

The Malaysians won gold in 2001, when the Games were last held in the country and are likely to be backed again by a raucous home crowd as they look to avenge their defeat by Singapore in the 2015 final. Tickets for the semi-finals and final are already sold out.

Even with all their recent overseas travel - Singapore's Under-22 footballers have been to Australia, Qatar, Myanmar in recent months as part of their build-up for the KL Games - yesterday was a long and sapping day for them.

They spent more time in their team bus than in the plane and were glad for the chance to stretch their legs in last night's hour-long training session at Malaysia's Ministry of Finance National Institute of Valuation (Inspen) field, located about 30km from their hotel in Kuala Lumpur's city centre.

Coach Richard Tardy said: "We were very poor in training yesterday and I was very angry with what I saw. I can't understand because I gave them a day's rest on Thursday.

"Today was to wake them up. I am a little angry we arrived late. I asked to train at 4pm but we could only train at 7pm. Hopefully they feel better today because yesterday was a bad session. I hope it will be better tomorrow and even better on Monday."

His players have been in dismal form, losing both friendlies during their trip to Perth earlier this month. That made it 11 losses in 16 games since the start of the year.

But forward Hanafi Akbar vowed that they would start with a clean slate in their Group A opener against Myanmar.

The 22-year-old said: "Team morale is good and we are ready for Myanmar. We've watched the tape again and again (of their 0-2 defeat by the same opponents at last month's AFC U-22 Asian Cup qualifying match in Yangon)."

Singapore will send 569 athletes - its largest away contingent - to Malaysia and compete in 35 of the 38 sports offered, skipping weightlifting, volleyball and sepak takraw.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on August 13, 2017, with the headline 'Teams hit the ground running'. Print Edition | Subscribe