India and Iran paraded their pedigree on Friday to overcome tricky opposition in the semi-finals of the Kabaddi Masters in Dubai. South Korea and Pakistan made their presence felt in the two semi-finals, but were eventually undone by the might of their opponents.
South Korea caught India cold at the start of the first half. The Indian defence took time to get into the groove as Jang Kun Lee profited. A super raid from the Korean captain that put the 2014 Asian Games bronze-medalists 7-3 up, rang alarm bells in the Indian camp.
India who lost raiders Rishank Devadiga and Pardeep Narwal early on had Ajay Thakur to thank as he dismissed Korea’s right corner to ease fears of an early all out. Thakur seemed very calm under pressure and rescued India out of tight positions on more than one occasion in the game.
“I was never under pressure. Even when they had a lead, I knew we have the players in our team to make a comeback,” Thakur said after the game.
Thakur added ten points to his tally by the final whistle, with his experience coming very handy for India.
“Agility is their strength. We aren’t as quick as the Koreans, so I tried to slow down the raids. I didn’t want to play to their strengths. In the power and skill departments, we had the edge over them. That’s how I managed to score more points as I denied the Koreans a chance to play the game to their strength,” Thakur added.
Coach Srinivas Reddy backed his captain’s strategy and replaced Pardeep with Monu Goyat. Pardeep who relies on agile moves to scorepoints was being nullified by the Korean defence. The decision to put the wily Goyat in place of Pardeep paid dividends as Indta started carrying a threat on each of their raids.
By half time, India managed to turn the deficit into a 17-10 lead. Korea were still in the game, but had few resources to mount a comeback.
The east-Asians missed a trick by protecting Jang Kun Lee. The Indian defence were still coming to terms with the Korean raiders, but the rather limited use of Jang Kun Lee was a baffling decision. The intention was to keep the captain on court, but it came at a cost of Korea’s raiding bite.
It allowed the likes of Mohit Chhillar, Surjeet and Girish Ernak to calm the early nerves and get into the groove. With the other Korean raiders misfiring, the pressure to deliver the good for his team fell on Jang Kun Lee. The Korean captain managed to pluck away a few bonus points, but India’s defensive organisation in the second half didn’t allow Jang Kun Lee to cause too much damage.
India showed their pedigree on the kabaddi mat in the way they kept the game under control after gaining a healthy lead. It is an area where Korea faltered early on the game allowing their lead to evaporate.
In the other game, Iran’s young guns proved too hot to handle for Pakistan who looked completely out of sorts in the second half. Missing captain Nasir Ali due to injury, Pakistan were short of experience in their ranks.
The Asian runners-up took a while to get going, allowing Iran to build a 11-1 lead. Pakistan led by Muhammad Nadeem forced their way back into the match, but Iran’s composure under pressure reduced the impact of a Pakistani backlash.
Iran picked up 3-4 points with less than four players on the court. So even when they were cleaned up Pakistan, they had a seven-point lead to protect.
The reaction of the two teams after that all-out determined the contest. Iran who received a kick in the teeth after their quick start regained the focus. On the other hand, complacency crept among their players. Pakistan gave away cheap points on a pursuit, allowing Iran to restore their advantage.
The mistakes completely deflated Pakistan who collapsed to a heavy defeat in the end.
India and Iran differentiated themselves from the other semi-finalist in the way both dealt with the game when they were forced on the back foot. Neither Korea nor Pakistan were able to turn the tides in the second half against their much illustrious opponents.
Big two lock horns
India and Iran will now go head-to-head for the Kabaddi Masters title on Saturday. India who are yet to get all out in this competition so far will be tested by this youthful Iranian side who travelled to Dubai without their three key players: Meraj Sheykh, Fazel Atrachali and Abozar Mohajermighani.
However, Iran have hardly felt their absence in this competition. The second string players have grabbed the opportunity with both hands, making the trio’s return to the side a tricky affair.
Mohammad Maghsoudlou has been the pick of their raiders for the World Cup runners-up, but it is their collective defensice display that has been the hallmark of their success in Dubai.
The Iranian defence will face its toughest test in this competition when they take on India who sport a wide range of raiders that have hit form in this competition. It is this contest that could go a long way in determining the winner.
India and Iran last faced each other in the 2016 Kabaddi World Cup final that India won by nine points. Ajay Thakur was the star of the show for India on the day scoring 12 points. On Friday as he leads a young side out against Iran, he will hold the aces once again.
India have so far relied on individual talent and experience to decimate opponents, but against Iran, who portrayed the best team ethic in this competition, Indian players will be required to play at their hundred percent. The Indian defence that’s had its uncomfortable moments in the competition will need to be at their best.
Under new coach Gholamreza, Iranians are a galvanized bunch. From narrow defeats in the Asian Games and World Cup to the disaster in the Asian Championship last year, Iran have plenty of wrongs to right.
Iran have never beaten India in standard style kabaddi. Without their key men, the task is cut out for Amirhossein Maleki’s men, but without the baggage of the past, this young side have shown they have it in them to do the unthinkable.
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Updated Date: Jun 30, 2018 15:48:56 IST