JAKARTA: India’s nearly unchallenged domination of the Asian Games kabaddi competition ended on Thursday with the men’s team failing to make the final for the first time, left shellshocked and battered by an ever improving Iran in the semifinals.
For the first time in its history, India ended with a bronze medal in its indigenous sport, in which a gold is taken for granted every four years at the Asiad.
The 1827 loss, which left some in the Indian camp in tears, and others stonefaced, ended a reign of domination dates back to the 1990 Asiad. It was a nightmare that unfolded for India at Theatre Garuda where the Iranians played like champions and India seemed completely out of sorts. 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 runnersup 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 ProKabaddi League players facing each other with Iran having the likes of defenders Fazel Atrachali and Abozar Mighani.
The Indian team which had PKL stars like Ajay Thakur, Pardeep Narwal, Rahul Chaudhari, Deepak Niwas Hooda became the first to finish an Asian Games without the top prize.
As the Indians slumped to the mat, their faces a picture of disbelief, the Iranian spirits soared. The chestbumping, wide smiles and dancing fans in the stands made for dramatic images.
India began the proceedings with a 64 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 67.
Mighani, who played for Telugu Titans in the PKL, and Attrachali who played for Gujarat Fortune Giants 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 88 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.
The tense match was levelled at 99 at half time but Iran surged ahead to 1411 with some fine tackles by its players.
India trailed 1216 with 10 minutes to go and Rahul Chaudhari was brought in to salvage
some quick points. It was desperate times for the Indian team. Rahul 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 1914.
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.