Singapore-Malaysia face-off in triple treat in Causeway Derby
Singapore and Malaysia lock horns in men's football, netball and women's water polo today
Whenever Singapore's netball captain Vanessa Lee bumps into her Malaysian counterpart Puah Pei San at the team's hotel in Kuala Lumpur, the two would always smile at each other or exchange pleasantries.
"We have played against each other for some time already. Like me, she also left the national team for a while before returning," said the 33-year-old, who took a break from the national team after Singapore's victorious Asian Championships campaign in 2012.
She returned to the national fold last June, and has skippered the team ever since.
But, all pleasantries will be put aside temporarily when Singapore face Malaysia today in the preliminary round at the Juara Stadium.
"I am quite excited to play them, they always have been good competition... we have trained so hard and are looking forward to playing the Asian champions," Lee said of Malaysia.
The netball tie is just one of three Causeway Derbies happening at the SEA Games today, with the Republic also facing hosts Malaysia in the preliminary rounds of men's football and women's water polo.
The rivalry, steeped in the two countries' shared history, has always been a tasty one, arguably most so in football, where the competitiveness could be traced to the Malaysia Cup days of old.
It is a feeling that can even be felt in domestic competitions such as the S.League, where Ong Kim Swee's Harimau Muda used to ply their trade.
Ong said: "A Malaysia-Singapore game is always special, be it the SEA Games, the Suzuki Cup or whatever tournament.
“We have trained so hard and are looking forward to playing the Asian champions.”Singapore netball captain Vanessa Lee is relishing the clash with Malaysia today
"Even when my Harimau Muda team played in the S.League against your local clubs, it felt like we were playing Singapore in every game.
"Because of the rivalry, the tension is always there, and it'll always be a battle."
More than just national pride would be at stake today, as the various Team Singapore sides cross swords with their northerly neighbours.
In netball, the match will be a good gauge of where Yeo Mee Hong's team have progressed against the reigning Asian champions, in what is likely a preview of the SEA Games netball final.
Singapore pipped Malaysia 46-43 in the 2015 final on home ground to win the gold medal, but the Malaysians have grown stronger since.
In women's water polo, a win against Malaysia - who lost 21-3 to Singapore in a round-robin game in 2015 - would give Gina Koh and Co. momentum towards their target of winning the gold medal in KL.
In football, a victory over Ong's Harimau Muda will give the Young Lions a fighting chance of reaching the semi-finals, after the Singapore side lost 2-0 to Myanmar in their first match on Monday.
Forward Ikhsan Fandi said: "This will be my first Causeway Derby and I can't wait to experience it.
"My father (Singapore legend Fandi Ahmad) has played many times against Malaysia and he told me to stay focused and ignore the local fans who will be making a lot of noise and trying to get into our heads.
"Maybe it can get hostile or nasty, but it's part of the game and I think as footballers, we should look forward to this kind of passionate football atmosphere and rise to the occasion."
As bitter as rivalries can go, Singapore's co-deputy chef de mission and former national swimmer Mark Chay hopes that the athletes will carry the Republic's name well in their respective battle grounds.
He said: "We expect them to give their all, to fight hard; they are representing Singapore after all, and we want to win.
"But, when the whistle blows to signal the end of the matches, I hope they'd remember to be respectful of their opponents, and to display good sportsmanship."
- Additional reporting by David Lee & Sazali Abdul Aziz