New Delhi: India once again defeated Iran in yet another World Cup final with rock-star Ajay Thakur leading the charge after an indifferent first-half from the defending champions on Saturday at Ahmedabad.
Playing in the third successive final against Iran, India started their title defence on a poor note, but ended up lifting the trophy for the third successive time with a 38-29 scoreline, a comfortable nine-point victory.
Iran skipper Meraj Sheykh won the toss and chose court, giving India the first chance to raid at The Arena. Skipper Anup Kumar started with an empty raid, with Sheyk replying with a similar raid.
Then, Iran took the complete control of the final with a series of brilliant raids, even as India found themselves, somehow, bogged down by the pressure of playing at home, in front of an expectant crowd.
India's raids failed to impress, and so thus the defensive work. In contrast, Iran, under Sheykh's leadership maintained the lead going into the half-time. They inflicted India an All-Out, and the score at half-time was 18-13 in Iran's favour.
But, after the change over, India found their star player Thakur taking the initiative. He was pivotal in India's change of fortunes, and another aspect which contributed to it was the arrival of young turk Nitin Tomar, on for Rahul Chaudhari. The experienced raider seemed to have lost the plot in the crucial match. Another sub who infused fresh blood in India's defence was Manjeet Chillar.
But it was Thakur, who changed the complexion of the match with 12 points.
For Iran, it's a case of so near yet so far. After leading the overwhelming favourites, they conspired against themselves to lose the match.
They played brilliant Kabaddi, and even challenged the verdicts which clearly showed their confidence. But they once again ended second best to a team, ready to rule the sport for a long, long time.
India had previously defeated Iran in the previous two World Cup finals, 55-27 at Mumbai In 2004 and 20-19 at Panvel in 2007 as the sports got a makeover, bidding to compete with other sports.