Singapore's hockey boys lose, but win over fans
S'pore play their hearts out, but fail to hold on to lead against favourites Malaysia
The music skipped, screeched, then came to a stuttering halt.
But packed to the rafters with Singapore fans, the Sengkang Stadium picked up where the music left off, not missing a beat as it belted out the Majulah Singapura - and even kept in tune.
Out on the pitch, the Republic's hockey men played an equally sweet symphony not seen in a while.
Led by skipper Enrico Marican, they kept to coach Solomon Casoojee's song book, as they not only matched their Malaysian counterparts for long periods, but also took the lead.
A contentious umpiring call saw the game turn with the last touch of the first half, and the Malaysians' quality shone through, as they ran out 4-1 winners.
"I'm really happy with how we played our hearts out, and actually played how we planned to - getting organised, going forward and getting penalty corners," said Marican.
"The game went from one D to the other...and I thought we could actually win."
Sabri Yuhari scored from an eighth-minute penalty corner that raised the roof at Sengkang.
And for the next 15 minutes, Singapore played like men possessed, and could have even doubled the lead had Ahmad Faris Johari pulled the trigger after being set free in the 22nd minute.
But Malaysia pulled level through Sufi Ismat just six minutes later, then took the lead with the last touch of the first half - in contentious fashion.
"The umpire signalled to stop time as he gave a green card (to Singapore's Timothy Goh), but the Malaysians carried on playing," said Casoojee, whose team stood watching as Aiman Nik Rozemi swept home.
"That goal changed the game, and even the Malaysian coaching staff acknowledged that after the game."
Malaysia went on to score through two second-half penalty corners, to win, but required goalkeeper Ridzwan Azmi to pull off two crucial saves to keep them ahead.
He first scrambled the ball away in the 55th minute, after a lovely Singapore move saw the ball worked from left wing to right then into the D.
And then two minutes later, he got down in a flash, to turn away Ashriq Ferdaus' goal-bound sweep off a penalty corner.
"I'm quite pleased with the boys, they played to the plan, got five penalty corners," said Casoojee, whose charges also received praise from their opponents.
"But a little more accuracy would have been better."
"It was a tough match, we took a step back mentally, and Singapore stepped up a gear, their structure and organisation have definitely improved," said Malaysian coach A. Arulselvaraj, who added that his goalkeeper had a good game.
"But - and I don't mean to be cocky - I never doubted that we would win the game."
The Malaysians, represented by their Under-20 team here, have confirmed their spot in the gold-medal match, even before they face Myanmar tomorrow.
But Singapore still have a job to do against Thailand tomorrow.
"Gold is still possible. We have to beat Thailand by a five-goal margin, and I highly doubt that Myanmar can beat Malaysia. If they do we'll have to ask the bookmakers some questions," added the South African, tongue in cheek.
"If we bring the intensity from this game into the Thailand game, we'll be okay."