It was do or die, the final test match against the Omanis to keep our hopes of qualifying
for the 2014 Asian Games alive. The preparation was meticulous, three pool sessions for
effective recovery, hours of video analysis and discussions, culminating in a comprehensive
and meticulous team talk by Coach Solomon Casoojee. The time for words was at an end,
actions were what mattered now.
After a meal of fruits and vegetables to provide us with sufficient energy for the battle
ahead, we boarded the bus with a steely resolve to end all doubts about our ability to
perform and our right to play in the Asian Games. This was the last of 10 intense days
packed with training sessions, friendly games and pool sessions, all while our Muslim
brothers had observed their fast during the holy month of Ramadhan. Needless to say, it
had been extremely taxing adjusting to the new timetable, as we could only play in the
night, resulting in 10 pm and 1 am games. However, all that did not matter any longer. As
the dry wind ruffled our hair, we strode off the bus not as 18 boys, but as a pack of lions, out
for the kill.
Something was different about this game; there was electricity in the air that had not been
present before. We were focused and in sync, the warm-up was crisp and intense. Every
pass was accurate, every run well-timed and every hit on goal ruthless. Even the insatiable
Solly had no qualms about this warm up as we huddled up for the cheer before the game.
Captain Enrico reminded us for a line Solly had borrowed from Al Pacino in the pre-game
team talk. "Let's do this together, inch by inch, boys. Inch by inch until we get this game."
Hyped up and ready to go, we cheered once, a resounding "Singapore!" that left nothing to
Our determination to succeed was obvious as the first quarter began. A lightning attack
down the right by nippy forward Johnston "Johnnyboy" Sivalingam earned us our first
penalty corner of the night. Sabri Yuhari stepped up, and didn't disappoint, with a rocket to
the bottom right corner. The Omanis were visibly shocked by the speed and persistence of
our attack as we settled back to resume the game. Minutes later, a defensive lapse led to a
short corner for the Omanis. A misflick resulted in a turn over at the top of the D. Smelling
a counter attack opportunity, Ishwarpal the beastly legend picked up the loose ball and
slapped it down the right to Syakiran, whose brilliant vision led to a flat diagonal ball to Silas
"JDH" Razak at the top of the opponent's circle. Silas controlled the ball and beat the keeper
with a pass to Little Faris who deflected it into an open goal. The quarter ended with the
score 2-0 in our favour.
At the minute-long quarter time break, Solly warned us not to be satisfied and complacent
with our lead as the Omanis would not squander their chances. This was exactly what
happened in the second quarter, with our structure and organization weakening at
certain points, leading to 2 defensive lapses that the Omanis were quick to turn into goals.
Solomon's rage at the half-time break was understandable as we had just made the game
interesting again, with the score at 2-2.
However, calm words from some of the seniors along with the passionate fire that Solly
throws into the mix were effective in reminding us of what was at stake in this game. We
were not just playing for ourselves but for qualification in the Asian Games and a chance
to play with some of the best teams not only in Asia but in the world. It was with renewed
spirit and perseverance that we stepped out for the third quarter.
It was an extremely even quarter, with both teams having equal possession, but our
dominance was undeniable as we threatened the Omani goal repeatedly. However, we
could not convert opportunities into precious goals on the score board at the end of the
quarter. We walked off slightly disappointed but confident that our structure and discipline
would pull us through.
To borrow a quote from the late Winston Churchill, "Continuous effort – not strength
or intelligence- is the key to unlocking our potential". This was the mantra by which we
played, continuously harassing the Omanis across the entire pitch, working tirelessly to
maintain possession and convert it into goal-scoring chances. Our efforts were rewarded
when in the final 5 minutes of the game, midfielder Nur Ashriq "JDH 2.0" Ferdaus exhibited
excellent 3D Skills to beat 2 Omanis, before playing a quick one-two with Karleef "Karleetch"
Abdullah to enter the circle. He then beat another 2 Omani defenders before slipping the
ball past the keeper to Captain Enrico who slammed it into the goal. The bench erupted as
we wheeled out in celebration.
However, the game was far from over, with a tense 4 minutes remaining. The Omanis were
throwing everything they had at us in hopes of clinching an equaliser but our defense stood
strong and valiant, thanks to some amazing tackling by Saifulnizam "Elder" Seftu. Hard work
by some of the younger lads such as Bernard "Burn-Hard" Ng, Hanif , Norman "Strawberry"
Teo and Fauzi "Satay" Wahab was also critical to ensuring that the Omanis were unable to
threaten us seriously. The relief and joy was written in all our faces when the final whistle
Months of efforts had led to this trip and the last 10 days had not been easy for any of us.
However, we had come out on top and achieved the result we set for ourselves against
Oman's best players. No matter what the verdict from SNOC, I believe that we did our best
and I am extremely proud to have been part of this pride of lions.
MUSCAT, OMAN 12/7/2014: The boys took awhile to settle down in Oman but they couldn't have done it at a time any better than the day of our first official game. We'll be playing two official games against Oman in an attempt to convince to the SNOC that we're worthy a place in Incheon. Oman has been generous enough in putting their hockey league on hold and letting us have a few test matches with them leading up to Asian Games.
It was a real challenge cause we are all playing during the fasting month but it's no excuse for us not to perform well since the Oman side is fasting too. Basically we're like owls – asleep during the day, up during the night. It was a 10pm game and all the preparations were positive throughout. Beginning from the bus ride to the stadium, to the warm up and to the huddle just before the game, the noise and the intensity was just right. I think that's what works for us. Neither can we be too serious nor too relaxed in order to have a good game.
The first quarter began with both sides showing extreme pace on and off the ball. It's almost as though there weren't any room for anyone to make an error, if someone does, the opposing player is all ready to capitalize on it. Both teams had plenty of chances however neither side was able to convert any. The second quarter saw more life in the teams with Singapore attacking with fast flowing hockey. The 'pass and go' tactic that works well for us were put to good use and that really split the Oman's defense when going forward. Also, we managed to reduce the running by letting the ball do the work. After the first half, the score was still goal-less until Singapore broke the deadlock in the third quarter with Karleef scoring the first goal from a scramble at the penalty spot. The ball was played down the line by Ishwarpal the beastly legend for Johnson to run onto, dribble past the defender down the base line before making the pass for Karleef to tap it in. Not too long after, the Omanis managed to get a penalty corner and converted it by flicking the ball past Suresh's stick side low. Towards the end of the third quarter, we won a penalty corner and Sabri converted it with a drag to the keeper's stick side only to get a slight deflection from it before sending the ball home! By the fourth quarter, both teams started to show fatigue and ran out of legs with all the unnecessary passes and soft turnovers at the vital areas. Midway through Oman conceded another penalty corner. Haseef flicked the ball past the post-man and the keeper's bottom left. Singapore finally had the two-goal cushion from Oman and focused on retaining possession right after.
3-1. Singapore won its first out of two matches against Oman and we'll be preparing for our second game on the 15th. Here's wishing the team all the best for the next game and may we give our all and leave the field with no regrets. For Korea!