AHMEDABAD:If the Pro Kabaddi League was meant to showcase India’s talent on a mainstream platform, the Kabaddi World Cup is an attempt to display their supremacy. Lack of funds meant the inaugural World Cup and the second edition — both held in Mumbai and won by the hosts — were held in obscurity amidst little fanfare.
The International Kabaddi Federation has tried to make the World Cup much more inclusive, bringing in teams from far-flung lands like Poland, Australia and Argentina. But even as captains of newbies lined up, wide-eyed at the extravagance of the tournament, there was no denying the fact that there are only two genuine competitors for the title. Hosts India are overwhelming favourites, while Iran are determined to reset the course of history.
The Middle Eastern nation came closest to denting India’s legacy, running them ragged before eventually losing by two points at the 2014 Incheon Asian Games final. The man whose unsuccessful last raid handed India victory, Meraj Sheykh, comes into the World Cup as Iran’s captain and talisman.
“Two points,” said Sheykh. “Two points,” he added, shaking his head. He still hasn’t got that out of his head, neither has his country. They have lost five successive major finals to India, but are insistent they are going “only for gold” here. India, meanwhile, open their campaign against South Korea on Friday.
South Korea have made rapid strides in recent years. Five players, including Bengal Warriors’ star attraction Jang-Kun Lee, have played in the PKL, and will look to use that experience.
“South Korea have the speed,” said India captain Anup Kumar. “Our raiders are also good, and we have the skills, but not quite their speed. Be it in attack, or defense, we just need to be careful that we don’t try to compete with them on their terms.”