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SEA Games 2023: Singapore men’s water polo team make winning return

He said: “It was amazing to play in front of our parents and have fellow Singaporeans cheer us on. It felt like a home game, and we were up for it.

“We got our first win, but the job is not done. We need to stay focused.”

Meanwhile, Singapore’s women’s water polo team lost 11-4 to Thailand and will need to beat Indonesia on Sunday to stand a chance of winning a medal as no bronze is awarded for the three-team event.

Their coach Luo Nan said: “We did not perform as expected. Some players were slightly nervous, but everyone tried their best until the end.

“We must give our all to beat Indonesia. It has been five years since we played them in an official tournament but their roster has not changed much. I believe we will put up a good performance against them.”

PHNOM PENH – Singapore water polo centre forward Eugene Teo emerged from the National Olympic Stadium Swimming Centre pool on Friday with a bloodshot right eye.

It was not because he had just made an emotional winning return to the SEA Games. Rather, the 35-year-old had torn the membrane of his eyeball during a training accident weeks ago that required nine stitches.

Exemplifying his team’s commitment and determination to regain the gold, Teo scored thrice as Singapore beat Thailand 12-7 in their first match in Cambodia on Friday.

The former national captain, whose last Games was in 2015, told The Straits Times: “It feels good to be back, and it feels even better to start our campaign with a win.

“I crashed into a teammate during training and there was a flap that was dangling from my eyeball that I had to cut off. My vision is still a bit blurred, but I still know where the goal is.”

Singapore had a perfect run of 27 consecutive men’s water polo gold medals at the Games until they lost to eventual champions Indonesia and drew with hosts Philippines to finish with a bronze.

At the Asian Water Polo Championships in home waters in March, they lost to Thailand on penalties.

But buoyed by their family members and 170 Team Nila sport volunteers who cheered them on with drums and clappers, the Singaporeans came out with all guns blazing in their first match.

National men’s water polo coach Kan Aoyagi said: “At the Asian Championships, we were trying out zone defence. We reverted to a man-to-man press defence today and we played a perfect game.

“Individually, we are fitter and stronger than our opponent. So while Thailand have improved, they grew more tired from our pressing in the third and fourth quarters.”

Singapore raced into a 5-1 lead at the beginning of the second quarter, but trailed 6-5 at the start of the third period. That woke them from their slumber, as they scored seven goals to exact revenge and get off to a winning start.

Right driver Paul Tan, one of four players along with Teo who came out of retirement to bolster the team, felt that the added experience helped them stay calm during the blip.

The 39-year-old, who was the joint topscorer against Thailand with Teo, said: “We’ve been in situations where we go up in a game and you make mistakes here and there. We know how to reset, take our minds off the mistakes and go back to basics.”

With upcoming matches against Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines and Cambodia over four days, captain and goalkeeper Lee Kai Yang urged his team not to be complacent.

The 28-year-old was a rock in goal, making several crucial saves, and acted as the hype man with his finger-wagging and fist pumps.