SINGAPORE - A final that began as a fight to retain gold ended with Singapore’s netballers playing for pride, after Malaysia wrested back the SEA Games title in a one-sided 65-41 result yesterday.
For a team that had hoped to hang on to a title they won so sensationally at home two years ago and a side hoping to reverse the result of a 50-37 defeat by the same rivals just four days ago, silver did not feel good enough for the Singaporeans.
The result – only their second defeat in three Games – was also their worst ever.
But despite finishing with a medal of a different colour, the Singaporean team can at least be proud in of the fact that they did not allow themselves to be deflated by a disastrous first half, posting a strong second half that tied the Malaysians 29-29.
Malaysia were simply faster and stronger from the get-go.
The fleet-footed hosts were adept at creating space for themselves, while the defending champions’ accuracy in both passing and shooting was found wanting.
Malaysian goal shooter An Najwa Azizan was the star of the afternoon and while she was fielded only in the first half, she did most of the damage. Her shooting accuracy of 93.94 per cent gave her side an unassailable lead by the half-time whistle .
The first quarter ended 20-7 in the hosts’ favour while the half-time score stood at 36-12.
Said Singapore coach Yeo Mee Hong: “We didn’t get the start that we wanted and Malaysia took advantage of our unforced errors. (The first half) really cost us the match.” But while it would have been all too easy to give up, the Singaporeans came back in the second half to arrest the slide.
Added Yeo: “I thought the younger ones stepped up and delivered. The second half was something very positive to take away.”
Up-and-coming players like Toh Kai Wei, who turns 21 today, made an impact in ball supply to the shooting circle after coming on as goal attack in the second half.
With matches between the Causeway rivals typically very physical duels, ball supply into the shooting third had been was poor in the first half.
But Toh’s introduction meant more chances in front of goal for Singapore goal shooter Charmaine Soh, who had been marked tightly by defenders before.
“The big margin in the first half was really something different,” Soh said. “We never expected that to happen. But the Malaysians were the better team today, so we have to give them credit for that. “I’m very proud of the team because we never gave up. We fought on until the last whistle despite all the support for the Malaysians.”
With locals getting in line to enter the Juara Stadium hours before the sold-out final, it was obvious early on the kind of backing the hosts would get.
Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak, Sports Minister Khairy Jamaluddin, and Olympic Council of Malaysia president Tunku Imran were among the dignitaries present to support their players.
Singapore National Olympic Council president Tan Chuan-Jin, who is also Minister for Social and Family Development, and Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Grace Fu were also in attendance.
Yesterday’s result may not have gone Singapore’s way, but it has given the team precious notes with which they will use to prepare for next year’s Asian Championship. Singapore will want to reclaim the title as hosts, after Malaysia claimed bragging rights at the event last year.
Said Yeo: “We will have to minimise our unforced errors and tighten up our defence. “We weren’t able to answer the Malaysians today, but we still have something positive to take home.”