For 42 years, a big, yellow-and-black-striped cat has jealously guarded the SEA Games men's hockey throne, never once loosening its grip on supremacy.
The last team to knock Malaysia off their perch were Singapore, who defeated their Causeway rivals on home soil in the 1973 final.
That vice-like hold was oh so nearly broken last night as the hosts took the defending champions - their 13 consecutive golds notwithstanding - all the way to penalty strokes, losing 3-4 after forcing a last-gasp 2-2 draw in regulation time.
Such was the determination of the Singapore team that Malaysia's team manager Mirnawan Nawawi thought he saw flashbacks of 1973.
He said: "Today's match reminded me of how Singapore almost repeated their 1973 result. I played in the 1999 SEA Games in Brunei against Singapore and even though we won 1-0, we were struggling and (today's game) felt similar."
With five straight friendly losses to Malaysia in the run-up to these SEA Games (0-7, 1-2, 0-5, 2-4 and 2-6), the Singapore team were expected to mount a damage-limitation exercise.
True to the form book, Malaysia took the lead through Mohd Aminudin's 14th-minute penalty corner before Abdul Rahman Azwar slammed in a second goal in the 45th minute.
Spurred on by the full house of 3,200 fans at the Sengkang Hockey Stadium, Abdul Hafiz pulled one back in the 51st after an assist from captain Enrico Marican and striker Timothy Goh scrambled home the equaliser in the 69th after a brilliant solo run from Marican shredded Malaysia's defence to force the game to penalties.
But Singapore were undone after missing their first two penalty strokes through Nur Ashriq Zulkepli and Marican, allowing the Malaysians to triumph 4-3.
Though disappointed after letting the gold slip, skipper Marican was still happy with the performance, saying: "We kept our structure and discipline throughout the entire match and I cannot be any prouder of my team. We have lost all our past matches and to draw against the Malaysians today shows how much we have improved."
Singapore coach Solomon Casoojee added: "The players showed character and we played well against a team (with) better technical qualities than us and the boys played with good composure.
"Through these few years with the boys, every defeat has been an opportunity of learning for them and they have been improving tremendously ever since. We're still not there yet, but we are making progress."
This article was first published on June 14, 2015.
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