The final saw familiar contestants in India and Iran with Ahmedabad’s TransStadia Arena the setting for the much fancied event. It was the Kabaddi World Cup final and India were looking to make it three titles in three. For Iran, the target was to avoid making it three losses in three. But after 40 minutes of ferocious kabaddi, the previous sequence of events unraveled with India beating Iran by 38-29 thanks to a heroic second half display.
For India, Ajay Thakur was the marquee man with 12 points and saw good support from Nitin Tomar from the bench with six points.
The second half changed the order of events in the final, attended by a capacity crowd, with India coming from six points down to create an eight points margin for themselves before running away with things.
Iran looking to exact revenge on India
It still stings Meraj Sheykh when he thinks about the two point loss Iran suffered against India at the Asian Games two years ago. It was his final raid that could have won his team the match – and gold medal – had he not been captured by the Indian defenders. Since then, the Iran captain has been looking for a chance to avenge the loss. That opportunity comes again now, two years later, at the kabaddi World Cup final.
At the Arena by Transstadia in Ahmedabad, Iran will play India in the final for the fifth time in a major international tournament – including the 2010 and 2014 Asian Games, and World Cups in 2004 and 2007. Though the Gulf outfit is hoping to overturn their luck against the hosts, the odds are still stacked in favour of India.
The game most certainly will be won or lost depending on the form of each team’s raiders. For the Indians, Ajay Thakur and teenager Pardeep Narwal have been in stellar form, with the former actually standing second in the leaderboard for most number of successful raid points in the tournament – 52.
On the other hand, Iran has struggled to break ground with their inconsistent raiding performances. Barring Sheykh, who has spent a considerable amount of time on the bench to help recover from a finger injury, the trio of Abolfazl Maghsoudlou, Mohammadesmaeil Maghsoudloumahalla and Mohsen Maghsoudloujafari haven’t done much to lift the pressure in terms of earning raids points for the team. In fact, the four raiders have amassed 68 raid points compared to the 99 picked up by just Narwal and Thakur for India.
In terms of the defensive structure, both sides boast a powerful lineup. India’s vice-captain Manjeet Chhillar tops the chart for the most successful defender – 21 tackles – with fellow cover defender Surjeet trailing by just a single tackle. Then there is the experience of Dharmaraj Cheralathan on the left corner, and raw power of Sandeep Narwal on the right flank. On the bench too, India boasts the flamboyant cover-pair of Mohit Chhillar and Surender Nada – the latter also has 20 successful tackles to his name.
The Iranians in turn have demonstrated their own skill in defence, which stems from each players’ training in ‘Kushti’ to aid their kabaddi. Abozar Mighani has been colossal in his favoured right corner position. He shares a strong combination with the right-in defender Farhad Milaghardan, while Soleiman Pahlevani announced his credentials early on in the tournament as a centre defender. Then there is the charisma, daring and power of Fazel Atrachali on the left corner.
An interesting contest may come in the form of Fazel’s battle against India captain Anup Kumar – who is a right-sided raider and will come directly under Fazel’s gaze. They were also teammates at U Mumba in the PKL for two seasons, and will know each other’s games well.
One positive the Iran defence has over the Indians is that Iran has been much more successful in not allowing easy bonus points when compared to the hosts. It is a feat they used well to shut down the Korean raiders and build pressure on Jang Kun Lee in the semi-final.
In turn, crowd support may be a factor that might help the Indians, though Anup has often mentioned he likes his players to shut the audience from their minds and focus on the game. Either way, Ahmedabad may just witness another India win. Or, the end to decades of dominance.
National anthems underway. First up – Iran. Followed by the hosts India. In the attendance is the Sports Minister Vijay Goel
Iran have won the toss and they’ve opted the side. India will raid first
Sandeep Narwal brings India the first raid points of the final. Up 1-0. Meanwhile, the hosts enjoying support from the hockey captain PR Sreejesh all the way from Malaysia.
— sreejesh p r (@16Sreejesh) October 22, 2016
Iran get their first touch point of the contest. Skipper Meraj Sheykh with the touch and after review it is confirmed as a touch. Anup Kumar was convinced there was no contact.
Ajay Thakur equals things in the first half. Strong raid and it is 3-3 with under 15 minutes to be played
This has been a cagey contest which was expected from these two well rounded teams. Pardeep Narwal goes out empty handed and in reply, Abolfazl Maghsoudlou also comes back without the touch on a do-or-die raid. It is 4-4
Lovely defensive work by the whole India team to deny Iran with a successful raid. Evens things out at 5-5
Anup Kumar gets India a bonus point to restore parity with just over ten minutes to go. 6-6 now. In response, Abolfazl Maghsoudlou gets the touch point and Iran are once again in the lead.
Meraj Sheykh with lovely raiding skills to move in and then quickly backtrack to return after touching two Indian bodies. Iran lead 9-7 now
MOHIT CHHILLAR (IN), AJAY THAKUR (OUT) for India
GHOLAMABBAS KOROUKI (IN), ABOLFAZL MAGHSOUDLOU (OUT) for Iran
SUPER TACKLE!! That was some upper body strength by Mohit Chillar to keep Iranian raider from crossing the line. Iran’s lead down to 1. 10-9
Another super tackle chance for India but Meraj Sheykh gets a shoe to the Indian players’ body and India are down to one. Do-or-die moment for India and Nitin Tomar gets the touch. Beautiful stuff!
ALL OUT! Iran inflict the all out on India as Nitin Tomar fails to get a successful raid. 16-12 to Iran
HALF TIME! Iran go into the break at 18-13. 10 points to Iran on the raid and six tackle points. India with 9 raid points and 3 tackle points. Small margins separate the two teams.
Second half is underway. India with a poor first half in attack. Ajay Thakur with three raid points and Anup Kumar, Sandeep Narwal with two each. Meraj Sheykh with five for Iran
Iran start the second half with the first points and who else but Meraj Sheykh with the attacking point.
Ajay Thakur brings the gap back to five points for India. But the hosts need big returns if they need to win this!
And looks like Ajay Thakur will get those big points for India. He starts with two points – goes down the alley and then twists and turns to get back after two touches. Iran’s lead is 19-16
Pardeep Narwal’s poor run tonight continues. He goes in for a touch and is pounced upon. He has zero points tonight. Iran up 20-17
Ajay Thakur is India’s key man tonight! He gets a successful raid with a touch and the advantage for Iran is down to one once again. 20-19
Ajay Thakur once again! With his upper part of the body grabbed upon by the Iranian player, he uses his foot to equal things. 20-20!
Ajay Thakur once again with a successful raid and India are in the lead now at 21-20
Iran’s final raid fails and India have the all out! The hosts are suddenly running away with this. Leading 24-21
Meanwhile Ajay Thakur has become the highest scorer at the Kabaddi World Cup. He’s now up to 61 points
How things have changed in the last eight minutes. After 24 minutes, Iran lead 19-14 and now India lead 26-21 after 32 minutes
Just over six minutes left in the contest and these are nervous moments for India. Wait, scratch that! Nitin Tomar with an impeccable raid to pick up two points and Iran are down to two.
SUPER TACKLE! Iran have it down to five points with a mistake by Rahul Chaudhari on the raid.
Do-or-die raid for Iran with just under five minutes and India with lovely teamwork to deny Iran the raid. India up by six points 30-24
ALL OUT! HUGE RAID BY AJAY THAKUR! He goes in and then backtracks to steal points. India are up by a big, big 10 points now. 34-24
Just over a minute left in this and India are still in with a good advantage. Leading 35-27
Anup Kumar doing the business end of the work. Gets a successful raid and India are closing in on the win