28 March 17 The Straits Times by JOHN PRAVIN KANESAN
Even though their bodies grew weary and their spirits were shaken by their arch-rivals' onslaught, the Bowen Secondary B Division team hung on grimly in their defence of the Schools National girls' football title at the Jalan Besar Stadium yesterday.
Extra time and a penalty shoot-out later, it was Bowen who retained their B Division title, beating a gallant Queensway Secondary School for a second straight year, winning 4-1 on spot kicks as the final ended 2-2 following extra time.
This was the third consecutive year the two sides had faced each other in the final. Queensway won in 2015, also via penalties, in which they were 3-1 winners.
Last year, Bowen avenged that loss with a 2-0 victory, but yesterday's final was a far sterner test of their will to win.
"It was a really hard-fought match, but we tried our best every single second of the game and that paid off," said a dishevelled Bowen captain Mira Ruzana Seherzan.
In contrast to the gleaming gold medal around her neck, her weariness summed up the evening which was full of frantic defending from Bowen, who were pegged back in their own half for much of the game.
Mira had put Bowen in front early in the first half, but Nurzianah Mohammad Yazid levelled for Queensway before the break.
"I told my team not to give up because we still had time. We could still win it," said Queensway captain Na'imi Nur Batrisyia, as they stepped up their tempo to dominate the second half.
Mira put Bowen 2-1 ahead via a 66th-minute penalty, but Queensway hit back within four minutes through Daniah Fitriyah Azlan to set up a nail-biting finish.
Said Bowen head coach Yeong Sheau Shyan: "We were defending like crazy and there were so many times that we thought we were going to lose, but the girls kept fighting."
As the Bowen players toughed it out in extra time, Mira remembered telling herself repeatedly: "Five more minutes won't kill me."
And when the referee blew for the shoot-out, Bowen knew they had a winning chance, having practised penalties in training.
"We practised penalties in training to get the girls accustomed to it and, before the shoot-out, I told them to visualise what we did in training," said Yeong.
The practice paid off with Bowen converting all four of their penalties, unlike Queensway who fluffed three out of their four attempts.
Despite the agonising defeat, Na'imi believes that her team did the best they could. She said: "No doubt that we played well, unfortunately we lost on penalties but I'm really proud of my team."