Dubai: India will look to avoid any slip-ups when they take on South Korea in the semi-final of the Kabaddi Masters at the Al Wasl sports stadium here on Friday.
Ajay Thakur-led India were rampant in the league stage of the competition, winning all four matches and scoring 175 points in the process. The Men in Blue haven't suffer a single all-out in the competition so far and will go into the game against the World Cup bronze medallists as heavy favourites.
Korea though will take heart from their shock win over India in the opener of the 2016 Kabaddi World Cup when they were the 34-32 winners. Raider Jang Kun Lee played a big part in that victory scoring 10 points on the day and will hold the key for his team again.
"When we play India, we keep telling ourselves that we are better than them. I feel it's important to think that way if we are to succeed against such a strong team. We like to control our thoughts before we play India and we keep stressing the fact that we are better than India," Jang, the Korean captain said before the game.
India are likely to go with three pure raiders, with Ajay Thakur, Rishank Devadiga and Rohit Kumar being the favourites to earn a starting role. Pardeep Narwal, who showed glimpses of his form in the previous game against Kenya, remains an alternative, along with Rahul Chaudhari.
Deepak Niwas Hooda is expected to continue at left-cover. His presence will also provide India with an added raiding option if the main raiders fail to make an impact. Surjeet and Mohit Chhillar should start at right-cover and right-corner respectively, while there is tough competition for the left-corner spot.
On current form, Girish Ernak should continue at the position, but Surender Nada's experience and understanding with opposite corner Mohit could play a part in coach Srinivas Reddy's mind.
India have tended to start games in a blitz. Koreans will have to control the initial stages and remain tight in defence. They key for Korea in the initial stages would be not give away easy points to the Indian raiders and stay in the game. If India manage to get a headstart, it will be very difficult for the Koreans to make a comeback in the contest, especially with the form that the Indian raiders are in at the moment.
In the 2016 World Cup opener, Korea had successfully managed to stifle the Indian raiders. They took the contest to the wire and made the most of the pressure India found themselves under.
Apart from Lee, Tae Deok Eom, Seong Ryeol Kim, Hong Dong Ju and Ko Young Chang will have to play their part well for the Koreans.
Koreans have qualified for their fourth successive semi-finals at a major international event, but have never managed to get past this stage. Against an in-form India, and with their own form being patchy, Koreans will have their task cut out in the semi-final.
Coach Reddy has urged his players to go all out on the semi-final and the final if India qualifies. He believes wins by big margins could demoralise their opponents before the Asian Games.
"We are going to go all out. That's the way we have been playing in this competition so far, and there is no reason to change it. Korea is a contender for the Asian Games. Our aim is to win by a big margin, and demoralise them. It is not easy for a team to come back from a heavy defeat and we will try to score as many points as possible," the Indian coach said.
Reddy, who coached Korea to the 2014 Asian Games bronze medal, felt slightly disappointed by his former team's performance in the Kabaddi Masters so far.
"I expected Korea to win their group, considering Iran rested their big players. But they lost both matches against Iran. Something seems to be wrong about them. I don't see them playing with the same confidence that they did at the World Cup or at Asian Games," assessed Reddy.
The game will be a test for left-cover Hooda. Jang being a left-raider will target right-corner Mohit. Deepak will have to be the one to block him in his retreats if he manages to pluck points away from the corners. So far Deepak hasn't been tested in that position and against someone like Jang, who has 351 Pro Kabaddi League points to his name, the all-rounder will need to be at his best.
India will play South Korea in the second semi-final of the day that is expected to start at 9 PM IST
Young Iran eye revenge against Pakistan
Iran will face Pakistan in the first semi-final of the Kabaddi Masters. The two sides will lock horns in a repeat of the 2017 Asian Kabaddi Championship that Iran lost in Gorgan last November.
Iran, who were expected to meet India in the final, were stunned in their own backyard by a spirited Pakistan side that boasted many new young players that rose to prominence from the inaugural edition of the Super Kabaddi League (Pakistan's kabaddi league).
Pakistan's strength remains their defence that might be weakened for the clash after captain Nasir Ali seemed to limp his way into the hotel as the Pakistan team returned from their morning training. Ali's loss would be a big blow for Pakistan in a crucial semi-final as Pakistan don't have a lot of experience in reserve.
Iran, on the other hand, cruised through the league phase barring the final encounter against South Korea that went down to the wire. Despite missing likes of Meraj Sheykh, Fazel Atrachali and Abozar Mohajermighani, Iran have coped impeccably well.
Of the teams on show, Iran have portrayed the highest degree of understanding among its players, making it very hard for opponents to score consistently.
Pakistan, on the other hand, have been patchy. Their defence is yet to hit the heights expected of it, but young raiders Muhammad Nadeem and Mudassar Ali have been impressive.
"The battle between Pakistan and Iran will be decided by the raiders. I feel we have an advantage there as there is more variety in our ranks compared to Iran," Pakistan coach Nabeel Ahmed Rana said ahead of the game.
Iran and Pakistan have faced each other three times in major competitions with Iran holding a 2-1 lead in the head-to-head record.
Iran will lock horns with Pakistan in the first semi-final that will start at 8 PM IST
Updated Date: Jun 29, 2018 18:35 PM