Goal difference sends Singapore's hockey men into final with Malaysia
Casoojee's charges bag four and enter final on better goal difference
(Sabri Yuhari 7, Karleef Abdullah 38, Nur Ashriq Zulkepli 59, Haseef Salim 63)
The target was three goals, and Singapore delivered four.
After Malaysia defeated Myanmar 2-0 in an earlier preliminary round game at the Sengkang Hockey Stadium yesterday, it was left to Soloman Casoojee's charges to get at least a three-goal margin victory against Thailand for a place in the gold-medal match on Saturday.
Myanmar, who drew 1-1 with Singapore last Saturday, were in second place before the Singapore match, on four points with a level goal difference.
Singapore's 4-0 win, in a match they dominated from the start, put them equal on points with Myanmar but ahead by one on goal difference.
In Casoojee's mind before the game, there was never any doubt his boys would prevail and line up alongside favourites Malaysia in the final.
"No mate, never any doubt we could do it, even if there were a lot of people who thought we couldn't," the South African told The New Paper.
The hosts played with urgency right from the first flick, and got on the scoreboard after seven minutes through Sabri Yuhari, who lashed home from a penalty corner.
After the goal, however, Singapore struggled to carve out chances, despite having 75 per cent of possession.
It wasn't until three minutes into the second half that Singapore made it 2-0 when Karleef Abdullah scored from another penalty corner.
With just one more goal required, Singapore went into top gear and rejoiced when Nur Ashriq Zulkepli scored via a deflection in the 59th minute.
Haseef Salim cemented the Republic's place in the final four minutes later.
"We started well, but then the guys went back to their old habits," Casoojee said.
"They started getting too individualistic and we lost our structure. At half time I had to smack them around a little bit."
As if the three goal-margin of victory wasn't challenging enough, Casoojee said he was appalled by the fact that the match referee, Thu Ye Kyaw, was from Myanmar.
"It was ridiculous; I don't think we got a whistle from him all game," the coach said.
"I'm pretty sure after his performance, he won't be officiating another game in this tournament.
"It was another obstacle for us, but we got over it."
The Singapore team will need all the help it can get against defending champions Malaysia, who despite fielding an Under-20 side for the Games, have won all three group games convincingly.
The Malaysians, who have won every gold medal in men's hockey at the SEA Games except in 1973, defeated Singapore 4-1 on Monday.
"If we cut out our mistakes, we can make it a tighter affair," Casoojee said, while playing down his team's chances of a gold medal.
"Malaysia are quality. But anything can happen in a final, and all we can do is give them a good challenge, give the fans a good final."