Thailand upset the hosts in the women’s water polo final on Monday to take gold at the OCBC Aquatic Centre in a shock 5-4 upset.
Singapore, who triumphed in 2011 when the women’s event was on offer for the first time, had been widely expected to repeat the feat on home soil. The event was not played in 2013’s SEA Games.
But the Thais did not read the script and put up a gutsy display to stun the partisan home crowd. Alwani Sathithanon scored four, while Varistha Saraikarn’s penalty in the third quarter proved to be the eventual match-winner.
Singapore captain Gina Koh reduced the deficit just 22 seconds later, but they found no way past their opponents again in the remainder of that period and the fourth quarter.
Both Koh and Angeline Teo saw their attempts come back off the post in the opening two minutes of the final quarter. Adelyn Yew had a glorious chance to level things 72 seconds remaining, but her point-blank shot was somehow saved by Satakamol Wongpairoj.
Failure to take their chances
The Thai goalkeeper, who had a blinder throughout, then kept out Lynette Jane Tan’s last-gasp attempt to spark joyous celebrations from the Thais, with two coaches leaping into the pool at the final whistle.
The Singapore girls were in tears after getting out of the pool, but Koh vowed they would train harder and bounce back from the setback.
“I guess today we played pretty well and our best, so there are no regrets definitely,” the 23-year-old said. “Unfortunately we lost to Thailand, but we’ll definitely come back stronger and harder in the next SEA Games and competitions to come.”
Team manager Samuel Wong praised both sides for an “excellent” game, but acknowledged they lost out as they were less clinical despite having 27 attempts to Thailand’s 21.
“Both teams missed quite a number of good chances; it’s only about who converted the crucial goal, that’s all,” he said.
“What I am most proud is that I’ve never seen such a strong team in terms of spirit. Even though we were trailing, there was never a time where we were going to give up the game and we fought all the way.”
Wong also insisted that this is only “the beginning” of things to come from them.
“We have the Asian Championships and the Asian Games. We are gunning for the big things in the future, so this is not the end,” he asserted. “We know what went wrong, we know where we fell… we’ll come back even stronger.”
Dark horses Thailand come through
For the Thais, victory was not a complete shock though.
They have already beaten the Singapore women at the TYR 2nd Southeast Asian Swimming Championships last June, coming out on top 6-4 in the round-robin stages before losing 6-5 in a rematch in the final.
Thailand, with an average age of just 18, also won all three of their round-robin games before the final showdown against Singapore, where they prevailed once again.
Head coach Daniele Ferri, one of the pair who leapt into the pool to celebrate with the players, said their aim was always the gold medal.
“We came here for the win and it was no surprise we won,” he said. “This time, I told the players we come here for the gold. We don’t come here for the silver.
“We had more fitness, we swam faster than the Singaporeans, who were very tired in the last quarter.”
The Italian, who has coached both the men’s and women’s sides for two years, hopes their victory can lead to increased support for the sport back home.
“They have to go to school or work and after that, it’s back to training, so I am sure the Thai players are heroes,” he declared. “Because water polo doesn’t have big money, so players cannot only do water polo.
“I think the women’s team, they deserve attention by everybody and the support by everyone and I now wish many new players in Thailand will start to play water polo.”