Aiming to topple host Singapore

Aiming to topple host Singapore
Rival captains (from left) Yap Suo Kuen of Malaysia, Micky Lin of Singapore and Sashika Samarasinghe of Sri Lanka will face off in the Asian Netball Championships, beginning today. The Sri Lankan side boast the tallest international player.

Even though Singapore will be defending their Mission Foods Asian Netball Championships crown on home soil, challengers Sri Lanka and Malaysia are unfazed by the hosts' advantage.

In fact, with injury-hit Singapore fielding a relatively inexperienced squad with three uncapped players, four-time winners Sri Lanka are confident of avenging their agonising 48-47 loss against the Republic in front of a stunned home crowd in the 2012 final.

Not only do the South Asians boast an experienced squad - with seven players who have played in either the Asian Netball Championships or the Netball World Cup - they also have in their ranks Tharjini Sivalingam, a 2.06m goal shooter who is reportedly the tallest player in the sport.

In the 2012 final, she accounted for all of Sri Lanka's 47 points, and is once again likely to be a daunting prospect for opposing defenders.

"We're pleased that our squad for this championships are very experienced," Sri Lanka assistant coach Yamuna Sandamali, 50, told The Sunday Times.

"That puts us in good stead for a title charge, especially now that Singapore are not as strong as they look on paper, but we are not getting ahead of ourselves yet. "I thought Singapore played well at last year's Nations Cup, and one doesn't become a bad side overnight."

Malaysia, the 1985 winners, remain wary of the possibility their rivals from across the Causeway could still come good at the championships, which start today at the OCBC Arena at the Singapore Sports Hub.

Ten countries are taking part.

Drawn with Sri Lanka in Group B, Malaysia are likely to finish second, which could set up a semi-final showdown with Singapore, who are tipped to top Group A.

Said Malaysia head coach Choo Kon Lee, 50: "Even though Singapore may be a squad in transition, they are probably doing it at the right time with coach Ruth Aitken at the helm.

"To me, she is the best coach in the sport and I believe she will find a way to mould her group of young and experienced players together and present a serious challenge to us all." Choo is not wrong to fear the Aitken effect.

After all, the latter has an illustrious track record.

A Netball World Cup winner as a player, she later led the Silver Ferns as coach to the 2003 world title and back-to-back Commonwealth Games gold medals in 2006 and 2010, beating arch-rivals Australia on both occasions.

Nonetheless, Choo believes her squad can still put up a fight as the majority of the players have competed together at several Asian Youth Championships. "Having sparred with Singapore in a training match a few months ago, I'd say we're both pretty equal in quality," she said.

"If we play them for a place in the final, it will boil down to who makes the fewer mistakes that day, and I hope that's us."

This article was first published on September 07, 2014.
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