Water-polo: S'pore may get World Cup place if it overcomes Iran

Singapore vice-captain Loh Zhi Zhi (blue cap) in action against Sri Lanka. The 23-year-old scored four goals and helped Singapore to a 26-5 win.

SINGAPORE - The Singapore men's water polo team are assured of their best finish in an Asian-level competition since winning the bronze at the 1986 Asian Games in Seoul.

But they could be in for a bonus if they beat Iran today in the six-team Asian Water Polo Cup at the Toa Payoh Swimming Complex.

Singapore beat Sri Lanka 26-5 on Friday to set up Saturday's key clash with Iran. Not only will the winner of the match go away with the champions' trophy, but they will also clinch a possible slot at next year's World Cup in Kazakhstan.

Qualification for the prestigious tournament, however, is dependent on whether any team forfeit their spot in the eight-team competition.

Kazakhstan are currently Asia's sole representatives, having qualified automatically as hosts.

Mirjam Heller, water polo coordinator of Fina, swimming's world governing body, told The Straits Times in an e-mail: "There is only a chance (of the Asian Water Polo Cup winners going to the World Cup) if no team from the African continent go, as all the other continents should have a representative."

Khosrow Amini, member of the Fina technical water polo committee added: "I cannot say exactly when we will know (if any team pull out). The earliest could be next month."

Loh Zhi Zhi, one of the team's two vice-captains, who scored four goals against Sri Lanka, remains focused on today's game. The 23-year-old said: "I think we have a good chance to come away with a victory. It will be a close game, but we are in good form, and are prepared for the game."

Loh's optimism stems from a good showing from Singapore thus far, as they have taken full advantage of the absence of some of Asia's top sides.

Kazahkstan, the 2010 Guangzhou Asian Games gold medallists, have given the Singapore event a miss.

Japan, bronze medallists in the 2010 Asiad, chose to focus on youth instead, and only participated in last week's 10-team Asian Youth Water Polo Championship, which they won.

China, who finished second behind Kazakhstan three years ago, sent a developmental squad to participate in both the senior and youth editions.

Still, Singapore coach Lee Sai Meng said that the team's accomplishments should not be downplayed. He said: "Kazakhstan, China, and Japan are in the top tier. They are mostly professionals, and it's hard to reach them.

"Right now we are trying to close the gap. This is still a good competition for us, whether they come or not. We may not finish in the top two, but we would still be competing against teams around our level."

This week's competition serves as a good preparation for the upcoming SEA Games, where they have won every gold since 1965, and next year's Asian Games in Incheon, South Korea.

Goalkeeper Nigel Tay said: "This is definitely the fittest squad I've been in. We complement each other very well, and are strong in various positions."

siangyee@sph.com.sg


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