SINGAPORE — Through 16 years and 12 editions of the Netball Nations Cup, host Singapore had not been able to add to their two titles in the first two years of the competition - until Saturday (28 October).
Using a strong second-quarter surge to take a decisive lead and then stoically holding off their opponents all second half, Singapore's national netball team ended their title drought at last with a 59-56 victory against Papua New Guinea in the final of the Mirxes Nations Cup 2023 at the OCBC Arena.
The host nation thus became the first side to win the Cup three times - the culmination of a successful tournament in which they defeated the likes of Sri Lanka and Cook Islands, both ranked higher than Singapore in the netball world rankings.
It was also the perfect send-off for veteran goal shooter Charmaine Soh, Singapore's most capped player with 128 caps over 12 years, as the 33-year-old announced her retirement from international netball after the tournament.
A key player of the gold-winning teams at the 2012 and 2014 Asian Netball Championships and the 2015 SEA Games, Soh was inducted into the Netball Hall of Fame in 2018 and served as national captain in 2019.
“It's been amazing from the start, from getting selected to the team and being the newbie, to now being the oldest in the team," a teary Soh reflected after playing the final minute of the final to rapturous cheers from the sell-out crowd.
"I would like to thank my teammates and the coaches who have been with me throughout these years. I'm really thankful to them for shaping me into who I am today. And to the team, I would like to tell them to continue to work hard and ‘jia you’ to the young ones.”
Avenging earlier defeat during tournament
Singapore's win over Papua New Guinea also avenged their earlier loss to the same opponents in the opening match of the tournament.
The visitors took a 16-18 lead in the first quarter, but Singapore overpowered their rivals in the second though sterling defensive play by Jamie Lim, Aqilah Andin and Khor Ting Fang. Interceptions turned into goals in a hurry, and the hosts established a 35-26 lead by half-time.
Despite some errors creeping into Singapore's game during the third quarter, Papua New Guinea could not capitalise. Instead, sustained defensive pressure enabled Singapore to further extend their lead to 48-37.
The Papuans mounted one final comeback in the final quarter, and the OCBC Arena was tense as they gradually cut into Singapore's lead. However, time ran out against the visitors, and Singapore could at last celebrate a Nations Cup title win.
“I'm very proud of our team for putting up a very strong fight from the beginning because we came here to prove a point," said goal shooter Amandeep Chahal, who recorded an 88-per-cent shooting percentage in the final.
"It's been very, very long since we've won the Nations Cup gold medal, and we're very proud that we actually managed to do it this year.”
In the other placing matches, Cook Islands secured third place after narrowly defeating Canada 49-48, while Singapore A team beat Sri Lanka 55-48 in the fifth- and sixth-placing game.
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