SINGAPORE: For the national men's floorball team, 2016 ended in a whimper after they finished last at the world championships they had worked so hard to reach.
The 2015 SEA Games champions have had a roller-coaster year, with former president Sani Mohamed Salim being investigated for the alleged misappropriation of funds in May. Amid their financial struggles, the team still managed to secure the training venue at Victoria School for free, and raised about 20 percent of the funds needed to pay for their trip to the World Floorball Championships in Latvia - the highlight of their 2016 sporting calendar.
But they ultimately finished 16th out of 16 teams in the week-long competition, which started on Dec 3 in Latvian capital Riga, notching only one win out of five games.
A SLEW OF DEFEATS
In the group stage, a narrow 2-1 opening loss against Canada was followed by a heavy 8-2 defeat against much-improved regional rivals Thailand, which Singapore had beaten 9-0 in 2015.
The final group game against the United States saw Singapore triumph 9-5, but the dead rubber match still meant that the Singaporeans finished last in Group D. Luck was not on Team Singapore’s side in the placement matches, as defeats to Poland and Australia meant that they finished last.
Despite having lost four of their five games, co vice-captain Glendon Phua insisted the team gave their opponents a tough fight: “I think we all did well even though the results showed that we didn’t win most of the matches.”
Co vice-captain Glendon Phua (#20) in action at the world championships. (Photo: International Floorball Federation)
Recounting his experience in previous national squads, Phua believes the current batch have actually improved their play: “I was part of the team in 2010, back when even the European teams were not as strong. If our current team had played against the sides from six years ago, we would have beaten some of our European opponents.
“But as you can see, other countries are also working hard in training, and they are also improving,” he conceded
“At the end of the day, the strategies that the coach gave us were based on a lot of research, feedback from players and studying the opponents. We can hypothesise all we want about what could have been done better, but from the ground, I feel that the coach made the right calls and the players tried their best even though we didn’t get the result that we wanted.”
Forwards Enrico Marican (#30) and Md Syazni (#25) celebrating a goal. (Photo: International Floorball Federation)
Echoing his co vice-captain’s views, captain Tan Yiru said: “I feel that the team is going down the right path, but perhaps we lack the exposure to execute what we are supposed to do.”
"THE THAIS SEEMED HUNGRIER"
The surprise package of the tournament was Thailand, who finished above Singapore in 14th place. For Team Singapore coach Sonia Chia, the reversal of fortunes for the 2015 SEA Games silver medallists boiled down to their overseas-based players, as well as their training.
Said Chia: “If you compare Thailand’s SEA Games squad with the team that played against us in the qualifiers, as well as the team that played in the World Championships, you'll see that all three were different teams altogether.
“They changed their entire squad. About 13 of them are overseas-based. They train in the European countries, which is where the roots of the sport are.”
Singapore Floorball Association (SFA)’s interim general manager Todd Vladich believes the new naturalised players in Thailand's ranks gave them an added advantage. “The Thais recruited dual-passport citizens into their national team, a number of them having Swedish and Finnish roots.
“It wasn’t the same SEA Games squad that competed in Singapore. Only about five of their players competed in the SEA Games last year.”
Chia also pointed to the Thais' five-week training stint in Sweden, which allowed them to acclimatise better. ”They prepared very well, as they began their planning as soon as the 2015 SEA Games ended.”
Singapore captain Phua said the overseas training stint made a world of difference to the Thais. “As you can see in Joseph Schooling, training overseas gives athletes a certain edge as they play much better. Not to say that local training is bad in any given country, but (going) overseas gives you a different experience which you can’t afford in your own country.
“With that in mind, we knew that our Thai opponents were very hungry to beat us for revenge from the 2015 SEA Games. They were very well prepared for the World Championships and come game day, we gave it our best but the Thais seemed hungrier.”
PLANS FOR 2017
With the rapid progress of regional rivals, the SFA is looking into ways to improve the current set-up. “For next year, we’ll try to build on what has gone right for Singapore floorball in the past six months,“ said Vladich.
Singapore's Akmal Shaharudin (#2) looks to regain possession of the ball at the World Championships. (Photo: International Floorball Federation)
Vladich cited the ActiveSG National Floorball League as one of the areas the association plans to continue working on. “We want to continue its development so that it can be the pathway for players of the national team, as well as for recreational (players). We’d like to build on that so that it can be enjoyable for all participants to continue to play floorball.”
“We’re also looking at how we can enhance the capabilities of the officials as well as the coaching structure in Singapore. I think with that it’ll be beneficial to developing the coaching of the national team as well as the league.”
Interim SFA president Kenneth Ho says the association is looking to tap into foreign expertise. “We are looking to perhaps bring in foreign coaches to conduct courses, as well as to develop a syllabus for our local coaches. We want to introduce this to the youth teams, so that they can become stronger and form the next generation of the national team.”