There was no twist to the plot when it came to the first semi-final. Before the tournament could start, there was already talk about Iran facing hosts India in the final. And in the first knockout game of the night, Iran kept their side of the bargain, beating South Korea 28-22 to become the first team to enter the kabaddi World Cup final at the Arena by Transstadia in Ahmedabad.
After Iran took a brief lead in the first five minutes of play though, there were hints of an approaching upset as the Koreans steadily started pushing their weight on the defensive front, effectively shutting down Iran captain Meraj Sheykh and their second raider Abolfazl Maghsoudlou. At the same time, South Korea, who were the only team to progress to the semi-final stages with an unbeaten record in the group stage – including a two-point win against hosts India – were steadily becoming flamboyant in their raids.
More so in the 13th minute, when Pro Kabaddi League and Korea’s star raider Jang Kun Lee inflicted the first all-out of the game on the Iranians, taking the score to 10-4.
Iran however has always been known as a defensively strong unit, a feat buoyed by the fact that almost all players train in the art of ‘Kushti’ during the off season. Leading the defensive charge and fight back was Fazel Atrachali, another PKL star. The left corner defender started marshalling the defensive structure by throwing in supporting tackles – not to mention unleashing his own lethal ankle hold on several occasion.
Eventually, Iran gained momentum as the Koreans started falling back. Simultaneously, the pressure started building up on Lee to win raid points as the other Korean attackers Dong Geon Lee and Tae Beom Kim started faltering. It was a trait that even the Korean skipper Dong Ju Hong asserted after the game. “In the end, there was more pressure on Lee to get the points because the second and third raiders were not on their best,” he said.
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KC Suthar, meanwhile, an Indian coach assisting the Iran team was critical of his side’s performance, especially since Iran will potentially play India in the next match. “We are still not completely happy with the way we’re playing. We haven’t been up to the mark in both attack and defence,” he said.