Fazel Atrachali watched from the bench while pressing an ice-pack to his right shoulder, a panic-stricken look etched on his face. The star player would shout instructions to his teammates on the mat, alarmed that Iran was steadily falling behind to an unfancied Poland team in their last group match of the kabaddi World Cup. There didn’t seem to be much going in the way of the Iranians. Even their inspirational skipper Meraj Sheykh watched, aggrieved, from the bench.
Eventually the mighty Iran would fall 41-25 to the Eastern European nation whose tryst with the sport began only two years ago. The result itself would not do much damage to Iran, who had already qualified for the semi-finals, while Poland was out of the running for a playoff berth. The impact however, the result did have was that it reopened the prospect of a marquee India-Iran final.
On the opening day of the third edition of the World Cup, played at the Arena by Transstadia in Ahmedabad, two-time champions and hosts India were shocked by a two-point defeat to an impressive Korean outfit. As such, placed in second position in Group A, India would have to face off against the Group B winners in the semi-final – widely expected to be Iran itself.
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And once Iran won their first four games, including those against the likes of the favoured Thai and Japanese teams, the semi-final that no neutral fan wanted to see was beckoning. That was until Iran stumbled.
Even with Atrachali and Sheykh on the sidelines, the Iranians still had a team strong enough to take on an inexperienced Polish outfit. Yet not many would expect raider Hadi Tajik to commit a basic blunder of stepping into an inactive lobby area during a raid – he did so rather casually. Further, for a team that boasts a powerful and alert defence, you wouldn’t expect to see their left corner defender looking in the wrong direction while a Polish raider charged up, got a touch point and retreated unchallenged.
Iran still holds the top spot in Group B, yet that depends on the result between Thailand and Japan, the former holding a greater chance of progressing. The young Thai side, whom Iran had beaten 64-23 earlier has a greater point difference than Iran. Should they beat Japan in the last group match of the tournament, Thailand will be level on points with Iran, but with a better scoreline to take them to the top of Group B. Subsequently, Thailand will play India and Iran will play South Korea in the semi-finals. and set up a semi-final match against India.
So far the tournament has been more about the only two upsets, the second one coming just in time before the playoffs. That in turn, makes way for the possibility of having the India-Iran final the event had been all about.