SINGAPORE — For one half of the 2022 Asian Netball Championship final on Sunday (11 September), hosts Singapore could almost believe they could upset the odds and score a memorable victory over defending champions Sri Lanka.
However, their exertions in taking the half-time lead over the six-time champions - with their evergreen, 2.06m-tall goal shooter Tharjini Sivalingam - took their toil in the second half, as Singapore ran out of steam and were eventually defeated 53-63 at the OCBC Arena.
It was therefore a second straight runners-up finish for three-time champions Singapore, which last won the title back in 2014.
Despite the final defeat, the hosts can look forward together with Sri Lanka in taking part in next year's Netball World Cup in Cape Town, South Africa, with both finalists qualifying for the quadrennial elite tournament.
Head coach Annette Bishop remained upbeat after the game, praising her charges for never giving up all match, and for putting up consistent performances throughout the nine-day competition.
"For such a young team, I'm very proud of them," she said after the final. "They've taken on some experienced teams here, and fought all the way until the final whistle.
"The past two-and-a-half years with the pandemic have been hard, without much competition to test the team. But I've seen them grown as a team so fast at this competition, and they've still got a lot to learn."
Jumped out of the blocks with strong home support
Buoyed by a noisy 2,500-strong home crowd at the full-house arena, Singapore jumped out of the blocks against the slow-to-settle Sri Lankans, racing out to a 9-4 lead with stellar defence and accurate shooting, before closing the first quarter with a 19-13 advantage.
However, once Sri Lanka settled down, they began to chip away the hosts' lead, as Sivalingam's towering presence enabled them to repeatedly lob the ball towards the 44-year-old veteran, who was virtually automatic in scoring.
Despite leading 30-27 going into the half-time break, Singapore looked a step slower in the third quarter as Sri Lanka seized the initiative with some tough defence of their own. Despite rotating their players, Singapore were unable to stem the rising tide of the Sri Lankans, falling in to a 38-46 hole after three quarters.
While they tried mounting a comeback early in the fourth quarter, Sri Lanka held firm to successfully defend their title.
Singapore co-captain Toh Kai Wei said that, while the scoreline was not what her team had wanted, she had no doubts over her teammates' fighting spirit
"This is just the start for the team, a lot of the players are still very young," she said. "We have the Nations Cup at the end of the year and the World Cup next year to look forward to, and we want to have a good national squad to compete for squad places for these competitions."
Malaysia claimed third spot for the second straight edition, after defeating Hong Kong 54-42 in the third-/fourth-placing match.
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