SEA Games 2023: Singapore a step closer to water polo gold after beating Indonesia
PHNOM PENH – In the pool, Singapore water polo goalkeeper Lee Kai Yang is the master of holding his nerve.
This was on display on Sunday as he made several saves during the team’s 12-5 win over defending champions Indonesia – moving them closer to reclaiming the SEA Games gold medal.
That facade of calm crumbled in the media mixed zone minutes after the win, as the Singapore captain stopped mid-sentence during an interview to rub his face and compose himself. Fighting back tears, he had to walk away from the scrum of reporters.
This was how much victory meant to Lee and his teammates, for they have waited four years to exact revenge on the team who stole their crown at the 2019 Games.
Indonesian had ended the Republic’s 52-year reign as the region’s water polo kings by handing them their first defeat (7-5) at the Games – a loss that also halted their perfect run of 27 consecutive golds.
They drew with hosts Philippines to finish with a bronze that year and the sport was omitted from the 2022 edition in Hanoi.
Lee returned after a few minutes and, when asked about the significance of the win, he said: “It means everything.
“We are very happy to have won. Definitely a lot of emotions after four years of hard work. But ultimately this is a round-robin format and we have two more matches ahead. But this was a key milestone for us.
“It’s not just about us. It is meaningful to have this win on Mother’s Day. Among the 13 of us, we have four fathers and everyone of us has our parents’ support. There have been a lot of sacrifices...”
Singapore will face the Philippines – whom they beat 18-6 at the recent Asian championship – on Monday before ending their campaign against hosts Cambodia the next day. A victory and a draw from those matches will return them to the top of the podium again.
Sunday’s win did not come easy though, as Indonesia raced to a 3-2 lead in the first period.
But the roaring support from a Team Nila contingent of more than 150 volunteers at Phnom Penh’s National Olympic Stadium Swimming Centre played their part.
With mini Singapore flags and clappers in hand, the supporters passionately belted out the Malay ditty Satu Nada in the Cambodian capital.
With gusto, they sang: “Satu nada, satu suara. Satu nada, satu bangsa dan negara, Satu Singapura. (One tone, one voice, one tone, one race and country, one Singapore).”
And the men in the pool responded, turning the tables to end the second period with a 4-3 lead.
In the third period, Singapore turned it up a notch, adding four goals as chants of “ole, ole, ole” erupted in the stands. Indonesia responded with one, but the Republic sealed victory with four more goals in the last period.
Singapore are now top of the six-team table with nine points after three wins from as many games. Indonesia, Philippines and Thailand are just behind, with six points, after two wins from three matches each.
National head coach Kan Aoyagi said: “They have been preparing for the last four years to get back the gold.
“We were focused on beating Indonesia because they are the champions.
“I would like to watch the team play at a higher level. After this we have the Asian Games coming up and I want to push this team to reach the top three of Asia. We cannot stop here.”
Meanwhile, the Singapore women’s water polo team also secured victory over Indonesia on Sunday, winning 10-6.
They will likely earn a silver medal after Friday’s 11-4 loss to Thailand, who will clinch the gold with a win over Indonesia on Tuesday. Only the top two sides in this three-team event are awarded medals.
Singapore women’s coach Luo Nan said: “Our goal was to secure the silver medal and challenge for the gold medal.
“It was unfortunate that we were not able to play our best against Thailand, but this match has given us more certainly of the direction we need to move towards and areas that we need to work on.”