Reigning world champions India and runners-up Iran will be favourites to make the final when they take on their respective semifinal opponents in the Kabaddi Masters in Dubai on Friday. Living up to their heavyweights tag, India topped group A with easy wins over Pakistan and Kenya and they will face Korea, who finished behind toppers Iran in group B in what seems to be a one-sided affair for the world champions. Iran, on the other hand, are likely to face a stiff competition from Pakistan in the first semifinal of the evening at the Al Wasl Sports Complex.
This will be a repeat of the Asian Championship semifinal for India when they had beaten Korea 45-29 to avenge their World Cup 2016 league stage loss in Ahmedabad. India have beaten Korea four times from five exchanges and the only loss was in the 2016 World Cup. To make matters worse for Korea, their top raider Lee Dong Geon is ruled out with a leg injury that he sustained during training.
But India coach Srinivas Reddy is not taking any team for granted. “We are focusing on our strengths and looking to put up another improved show,” Reddy told reporters on the eve of the match. The six-nation invitational tournament, organised by International Kabaddi Federation in association with Star Sports and Dubai Sports Council, is the last tournament before the Asian Games.
“As I’ve said this is a build-up tournament for the Asian Games which is our ultimate goal. We don’t want to take it easy,” he said about their title defence in the Asian Games to be held in August-September. But Reddy is disappointed with Korean show so far in the tournament and said they have the speed but missing in finishing.
“They are a much better team than the way they played here. They are lacking in preparation, confidence level. I don’t see them as the team that had beaten us. They have not yet delivered but we are not taking any team for granted.” This has been a tournament for Indian youngsters as the likes of Rishank Devadiga and Monu Goyat, the most expensive kabaddi player, have been a revelation in their maiden international meet.
Skipper Ajay Thakur spearheads their attack with his top-raiding skills while in defence the likes of Surender Nada, Girish Maruti and Surjeet have lent a fine balance. For Korea, Jang Kung Lee will once again be the key man in the squad and he will look to inspire the side. “We have a strong defensive unit. We have a set of plan in place but we will give them a tough fight for every point,” Kun Lee said.
Iran will bank on their strong attacking lineup when they face Pakistan in the first semifinal. Despite coming with a depleted side, Iran have easily outpaced their opponents — Argentina and Korea — to win four out of four matches. “This game is like a final for us,” Pakistan captain Nasir Ali said. Pakistan coach Nabeel Ahmed said both teams match in their attacking style of play.
“But we have got more varieties of raider than Iran. We have planned well collectively as per Iran’s style of game will target their raiders. We are not taking them lightly. They are fighters but we have prepared well,” he said.