Malaysia fight back to hold Singapore in netball clash
Asian champs Singapore fail to fire in final period and have to settle for stalemate
The scoreboard over their heads at the OCBC Arena showed the same number for both Singapore and Malaysia - 35-35 - but the pictures painted in their heads could not have been more different.
Tears of joy flowed in the Malaysian camp, with their flag flapping just as freely over shoulder, as hugs were shared between little hops into the air.
Across the court, the red and white of the Singapore players seemed to take on a grim shade of grey, as coach Ruth Aitken's arm immediately went over the shoulder of goal shooter Charmaine Soh.
Singapore were in dominant form for most of three quarters of their South-east Asia (SEA) Games netball pool fixture yesterday, leading by six goals going into the final period, much to the delight of the sell-out crowd.
Soh's hot hands got the hosts there.
She seemed unable to do wrong for 45 minutes, but they went cold in the fourth quarter.
Soh made only one of six attempts, with goal shooter Chen Huifen unable to pick up the pieces, sinking only four of her seven attempts.
The game ended in a dramatic draw but, in the head-game, Malaysia sat firmly in the driver's seat.
"It was mental, yes, mental," said Malaysian captain Yap Suo Kuen, when asked how her team managed to claw themselves back into the match against the hot favourites for gold.
"We were crying because we are happy. We've lost to Singapore for many years now, and this draw is the first step - the next step is gold," she said, smiling.
Malaysia struck SEA Games gold in 2001, the only time netball has featured in the biennial event, until now.
This comeback performance was clearly the shot in the arm they needed, especially against a Singapore side who are the reigning champions of Asia.
"We are (the SEA Games) defending champions, we know that we'll meet them (Singapore) in the final, and we wanted to show them that we can beat them," said Yap, issuing her battle cry.
But after a gargantuan performance in defence by wily veteran Premila Hirubalan, in what was her 100th appearance for the Republic, the Singapore players are not cowed.
"They're happy with the draw, we're not, and that's a good thing, it means we're hungrier," she said.
"We crumbled under the pressure a bit in the last quarter... I am disappointed, but I'll be sad till midnight, then tomorrow's a new day. Like (Cinderella's) pumpkin, it'll disappear," said Premila.
Like her defender, Aitken believes her crestfallen team will bounce back.
"No one likes not to win, but the battle is not over. I know the Malaysians will take great heart from this... but it's a question of how we respond to this disappointment," she said, admitting that the roller-coaster ride of a match left her exhausted.
"The shooters had a very good run. They didn't quite nail it (last night), but I have great faith in their ability to come back," added the Kiwi.
Moments after her disappointing final quarter showing, Soh already began to show signs she was ready to bounce back.
"I'm definitely very disappointed in myself, I didn't have the best game. But I want to win that final, and I will come back stronger," she vowed.
"I have to learn to be patient, not complacent - and to take every ball seriously."
I’m not scared of the Malaysians. They will come at us with everything, but we have enough guns to give them a good fight (in the final) as well.
— Singapore defender Premila Hirubalan
Premila’s one in a million, she really is. She’s an amazing team player and a person. She’s had an amazing career, and I hope it’s not over yet.
— Ruth Aitken on defender Premila Hirubalan winning her 100th cap for Singapore