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Singapore upset top seeds England to reach table tennis men's team final

BIRMINGHAM - Showing remarkable temperament in a high-stakes, pressure-cooker match, Singapore overcame significant odds to secure at least a silver medal in the Commonwealth Games table tennis men's team event.

On Monday (Aug 1), Clarence Chew, Ethan Poh, Koen Pang and Izaac Quek upset top seeds and home favourites England 3-2 in the semi-final at the National Exhibition Centre. They will play defending champions India in the final on Tuesday (Aug 2).

National men's coach Gao Ning was filled with pride after seeing his young team of local-born players - who have an average age of 21.2 years - rise to the occasion against experienced opponents whose average age is 27.5 years.

He said: "Today, we dared to win. We didn't overthink things, we didn't put our opponents up on a pedestal, we just showed up and fought.

"I have seen the effort they put in training, and I believe in them. I told the players if they wanted to bring home a medal, they must dare to win.

"We have nothing to lose in the final, we will be underdogs again, so we must go in with the same mentality that brought us here."

Pang, 20, and Izaac, 16, contributed the crucial opening win when they swept Liam Pitchford and Samuel Walker 3-0 (11-9, 11-7, 11-7).

Izaac said: "We know this was an important match against better opponents but we have confidence in our doubles capabilities. We were also given a lift when we saw this line-up which we felt we had a better chance to win against because of the style of play, and we produced a good performance to beat them"

The rankings prevailed when world No. 74 Paul Drinkhall beat 133rd-ranked Chew 3-1 (11-8, 9-11, 11-4, 12-10), but world No. 117 Pang helped Singapore stay ahead with a rousing 3-1 (11-7, 9-11, 11-8, 11-9) win over Pitchford.

Drinkhall levelled the overall scores again with a 3-0 (11-7, 11-5, 11-4) victory over 209th-ranked Izaac to set the stage for a grandstand finish.

Chew managed to compose himself after the earlier defeat to deliver a composed 3-1 (11-6, 11-5, 7-11, 11-6) win over world No. 92 Walker before collapsing to the floor in joy as his teammates piled on him.

The 26-year-old said: "It is an amazing feeling and it makes it sweeter that this was a team effort in which all of us who played today contributed points.

"We knew we most likely had to go the distance to beat England, so we were prepared. They are the ones with the home pressure, not us, so I just told myself to forget about the earlier loss and focus on my gameplan and stay aggressive."

Since table tennis was included in the Games programme, Singapore had won medals in every edition from 2002 to 2014, including two golds in 2010 and 2014 with a squad of predominantly China-born players.

But with the stalwarts' retirement and the Singapore Table Tennis Association's focus on developing local-born paddlers, India took over as top dogs in 2018, when Singapore returned empty-handed for the first time after losing to England in the bronze-medal playoff on the Gold Coast.

This year, India have been dominant, sweeping all opponents they have faced, including Singapore in the group stage and Nigeria in their semi-final.

But Pang is not giving up hope of another surprise, and said: "We are super happy to reach the final. We came in as underdogs and now we have a hard-earned medal. Our mindset will be the same in the final - we are not expected to win, but you can expect us to fight to the last breath."

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