There were plenty of expectations on the Singapore men's water polo team at the OCBC Aquatic Centre yesterday afternoon.
Rightfully so, given that they had won every gold medal since the sport was introduced at the Southeast Asian Peninsular Games in 1965.
Although they faced a stern challenge from Indonesia, the Singaporeans ultimately got the job done as they led at every break to claim a 15-10 win in the decider between two previously unbeaten teams.
Yip Yang led the way for them with four goals, Eugene Teo put in a captain's performance by weighing in with two pivotal goals, while goalkeeper Lee Kai Yang made a series of crucial saves when the Indonesians were piling forward in the second half.
The victory not only secured Team Singapore's 84th and final gold of the 2015 Games, but also extended the water polo team's streak to 26 consecutive golds in the biennial Games.
After the match, Singapore coach Lee Sai Meng expressed delight at the win, but stressed that it was time they aimed for bigger and better things.
"I'm very happy for the boys," he told the New Paper.
"They've worked so hard to continue this remarkable run of achievements for the water polo team.
"We're getting closer to the big boys in Asia after doing relatively well at last year's Asian Games in Incheon and we're going to try and continue bridging that gap.
"Of course, winning the gold is the best reward for all our hard work but, now, we have to reassess the team's performance and see where we go from here."
Lee also revealed that preparations for the tournament had begun right after their 25th gold at the 2013 Games in Myanmar, highlighting just how committed they have been to the cause.
"Basically, we started preparing immediately after the last SEA Games," he explained.
"The plan was to compete at a major tournament every half a year and we had the Commonwealth Championships followed by the Asian Games, before this SEA Games.
"In between, we also had overseas training trips before each competition.
"But, this year, we were unable to do that due to time constraints, as well as some of the players being unable to travel because of leave problems.
"So instead, we invited teams here to ensure that we had good competitive matches before the start of the Games."
Despite their status as huge favourites, there were times yesterday when it looked as though Indonesia were about to cause a real upset as they levelled the scores a couple of times.
Early in the second quarter, the Indonesians netted three straight goals to level at 4-4.
Straight away, Teo went back into the pool for his first involvement of the period and, within moments, he scored a real captain's goal.
With his back to goal, he lashed an unstoppable shot from the outside of his body into the back of the net.
This played a huge role in halting Indonesia's momentum and, in the end, the 27-year-old was just happy to play his part in ensuring the team were rewarded for all their sacrifices.
"Right now, I'm just slightly relieved that we managed to retain the gold medal," he told TNP.
"We made some mistakes, but I'm happy we managed to pull through.
"There were times when the pressure was on after Indonesia pulled level, but we've been in this situation before... We knew we just had to keep working on what we're supposed to do.
"We've been training from Monday to Sunday, sometimes even two or three times a day.
"No doubt, family and social lives had to be sacrificed. But having this gold around the neck definitely makes it all worth it."
The effect the home support had on them was also not lost on the Singapore captain, as he said: "I just want to tell the fans thanks for everything.
"It's my first time playing in front of a home crowd and it really amplifies the elation of winning."
Paul Tan, celebrating his fourth SEA Games gold, added: "This feels even better than all the ones before.
"Winning is always great, but doing it in front of your own people just makes it that much more special."
This article was first published on June 17, 2015.
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