For the first time in Asian Games history, India will not be the champions of the men’s kabaddi event as Iran thrashed the men in blue to record a thumping 27-18 win in the semi-final.
Kabaddi, which was introduced in 1990 to the continental championship, is a sport dominated by India, who have won the gold medal seven times in the men’s event and twice in the women’s.
But on Thursday, Iran brought that run to a screeching halt, putting in a defensive display for the ages and preventing India from scoring points on their raids for most of the second half after the teams were tied 9-9 in the first.
The defeat meant Indian men will return with a bronze from the Asian Games. The women’s team are still in contention for gold and will take on Iran in the final.
The writing was perhaps on the wall given that Iran had come close to upstaging India in the 2014 finals in Incheon.
Considered another Asian powerhouse, Iran had finished runner-up in the last two Asian Games and will square off for gold as firm favourites against Korea, a team that beat India in the group stage this time.
The match saw Pro-Kabaddi players facing each other with Iran having the likes of defenders Fazel Atrachali and Abozar Mighani. The Indian team which had stars like Ajay Thakur, Pardeep Narwal, Rahul Chaudhari, Deepak Niwas Hooda, flattered to deceive.
As the Indians slumped to the mat, their faces a picture of disbelief, the Iranian spirits soared. The chest-bumping, wide smiles and dancing fans in the stands made for dramatic images.
India were forced to be without captain Ajay Thakur for most of the second half after an powerful tackle from Iran saw the Indian suffer a cut above the eye, while India’s inability to win a point kept him out of action.
India began the proceedings with a 6-4 lead but the defending champions lost a chance to inflict an all out on Iran. Iran made a strong comeback and Ajay Thakur was dismissed after sustaining a cut on the forehead, an ominous sign. Then, Iran had a supertackle to make it 6-7.
Mighani and Attrachali proved to be unconquerable for the Indian raiders.
Another supertackle by Iran and this time Monu Goyat was taken down. Iran levelled for the first time in the game and the scoreline read 8-8 before they took the lead. India managed to inflict a tackle and draw level. Iran continued to have less players on the mat but their defensive pair of Attrachali and Mighani kept them in the game.
India trailed 12-16 with 10 minutes to go and Rahul Chaudhari was brought in to salvage some quick points. It was desperate times for the Indian team. Chaudhary’s successful raid took Mighani out but Iran replied with a successful raid of its own. Rishank Devadiga was then dismissed and Iran’s lead increased to five points at 19-14.
India were under tremendous pressure with less than five minutes to go in the match but Iran held on to their nerves to fashion the most shocking upset in Asian Games kabaddi.
The final result was a convincing win for Iran that left the Indian players distraught.
(With PTI inputs)