The solitary South Korea flag in the stands seemed out of place. It was hard to find in the arena filled with hundreds of fluttering tricolour. The chants supporting the Indian team from the crowds in the 3,000-seater stadium too overpowered the few who dared voice their shouts of ‘Go Korea’ at the opening match of the 2016 Kabaddi World Cup. The mood was such that it seemed that India needed to just show up for the win.
Yet as the match progressed, the solitary South Korean flag – more a poster – was supported by a larger silk one that was waved with surprised gusto once the match reached its latter stage. After all, South Korea were actually challenging the mighty Indians. Soon enough, they beat them too.
An astounding 34-32 to the visitors proclaimed the Koreans who had already started celebrating before the final raid had even started. Yet they assert that the result wasn’t one that they were too surprised about. “We’ve watched the India players and learnt their style and tactics because of the Pro Kabaddi League. We knew how to play against each of their players,” said the Korean captain Dong Ju Hong, who played for Dabang Delhi in the PKL.
As expected, India dominated the first few exchanges between the teams, picking up an 18-15 lead at the end of the first half. It wasn’t however, till the 36th minute in the 40-minute match that the visitors started their comeback. Trailing by six points at the time, Dong Geon Lee won an all-out for his team reducing the gap to two. From there on it was more about the Indian players making panic-induced mistakes and the Koreans keeping their composure to take advantage.
Even the experienced likes of Surjeet, Dharamraj Cheralathan and vice-captain Manjeet Chhillar – who had otherwise had a decent game – were found wanting when Jang Kun Lee managed a touch point on the trio in the penultimate minute to give Korea the lead for the first time since the opening minutes of the match. “Trailing in the dying minutes, playing under such intensity, I have never seen the Koreans play so strongly,” mentioned India skipper Anup Kumar.