by James EDGAR
Agence France Presse
CLARK, Philippines (AFP) — Indonesia clinched the first gold medal of the Southeast Asian Games in the Philippines on Friday with a historic victory, bringing Singapore’s 54-year stranglehold on the men’s water polo competition to an end.
The tournament winners beat Malaysia 14-7 to take the lead in the five-team round-robin competition at the New Clark City Aquatics Centre, but had to watch a nail-biting 6-6 draw between Singapore and the Philippines before their triumph was sealed beyond doubt.
It was an agonizing evening for the host nation who failed to beat the reigning champions by more than three goals —- a margin which would have seen them leapfrog Indonesia on goal difference.
The final whistle silenced the raucous Philippine crowd, but cued wild celebrations in the stands by the Indonesian players and staff.
“It’s surreal. It’s amazing, I can’t even think,” Indonesia captain Rezza Auditya Putra told AFP. “We did a great job all this tournament.”
Their victory breaks Singapore’s run after a staggering 27 consecutive water polo golds at the SEA Games since it began 1965, during which time they did not lose a single match — until their crucial defeat to Indonesia on Thursday.
Indonesia had been runners-up to their arch-rivals Singapore in every edition of the biennial tournament since 2013.
“We did it, we did it, we did it!” Indonesia assistant coach Benny Respati told AFP.
“I’m speechless. I’m really proud of my team. It’s historic. It’s been 50-something years. Hard work pays off, I guess.”
Indonesia were in control from the start of their match against neighbours Malaysia, and as the sun set across the fields around the picturesque open-sided aquatics complex, the men in white caps turned on the style to run out seven-goal winners.
The Philippines never went behind in their match against Singapore, but the hosts couldn’t score the goals required.
Nevertheless, the players still celebrated by throwing their coach Reynaldo Galang into the pool.
The teams will return on Sunday for the final day of the men’s competition, but they will be battling for places and pride, knowing that Indonesia’s water polo team will be standing on top of the podium for the first time in SEA Games history.
Along with football and floorball, the water polo competition started in the week leading up to the official opening on Saturday.
© Agence France-Presse