Thais stun hosts to clinch women's water polo gold
In a resolute performance, Ferri's girls stun home favourites for gold
They occupied a small section of the spectator stands at the OCBC Aquatic Centre, vastly outnumbered by the red-clad home fans.
But at the end of the women's water polo match yesterday, it was the Thai supporters whose cheers rang the loudest as their heroes pipped hosts and favourites Singapore 5-4 to win the gold medal.
With both sides unbeaten throughout the SEA Games campaign, the hosts only needed a draw to win the gold due to a superior goal difference.
Somehow, though, the Thais hung on to their lead and their head coach Daniele Ferri was seen with his fist in the air as the clock ticked down to the final few seconds of the fourth quarter, and dived into the pool in celebration seconds after the final whistle blew.
"Our strategy today was just to play and execute the tactics we've done during training," said Italian Ferri, who has been Thailand's head coach for two years.
"I told them we came here to win. We came here for the gold medal, not for silver or bronze."
The match was a close affair right from the start, with Thailand's centre forward Alwani Sathitanon opening the scoring with a penalty.
Singapore centre back Lynette Tan levelled the scores, but the defending champions were never able to take the lead in the decisive pool game.
With the score deadlocked at 3-3 at half-time, the Thai side struck twice in the third quarter through Alwani and captain Varistha Saraikarn, via another penalty.
Singapore captain Gina Koh's goal late in the third quarter raised the decibel level of the home fans and the final quarter saw heroics by both goalkeepers - Singapore's Eunice Fu and Thailand's Satakamol Wongpairoj - as they repeatedly foiled scoring attempts.
The Republic's women had defeated Thailand at the South-east Asian Swimming Championships here last year and Ferri believes his charges had become mentally stronger since then.
Captain Varistha agreed, adding that her team had garnered valuable experience from a training camp in China.
The 21-year-old revealed the vocal partisan crowd did not faze her for the crucial penalty that was the difference in the end.
Smiling shyly, she said: "I just pretended they were Thai supporters and they were cheering for us.
"I was a little nervous before the match, but I knew the Singapore team had more pressure on them as this was their home."
Varistha and coach Ferri both hope the water polo women's triumph here will lead to a boost in funding and spectatorship back home in Thailand.
Said Ferri, 31: "I don't know what's next for us. When we go back to Thailand, we'll have talks with the association and the Sports Authority of Thailand, and they'll tell me if we get to go for the Asian Games.
"Now that we've won the gold, I think we deserve more support - not just from the federation, but also from everybody."
Varistha, an accounting student at Thammasat University in Bangkok, added: "In 2011, there was no support. So we didn't go to the SEA Games.
"I feel really happy because we beat the South-east Asian water polo powerhouses, and, hopefully, after this we will have more support in Thailand."