The 2016 Kabaddi World Cup witnessed its biggest upset yesterday when Group A toppers Iran lost to Poland 41-25 in what could go down as one of the most unexpected results in the history of the sport. Unbeaten in the tournament before going into the match, Iran produced a shockingly uncharacteristic performance to go down in front of a Polish side, which played well but was nowhere close to its illustrious opponents, be it in terms of form or ability.
A victory for Iran would have seen them finish at the top of Group B, as expected, and a semi-final against India was on the cards, given the fact that South Korea were Group A toppers. On the other hand, Iran’s loss gave Thailand the chance to not only seal a birth in the semi-final by beating Japan but also top the group, given their score difference was already better than the former.
Was Iran’s loss intentional?
The rise of this scenario gives rise to a pertinent question. Did Iran lose this match deliberately to avoid a potential semi-final with India and face a weaker opponent in South Korea? If pure facts are to be put into perspective, it would be hard to imagine how Iran could lose to Poland.
Iran, before the starting of the tournament, were second favourites to win the 2016 Kabaddi World Cup after India and quite rightly so. While India were stunned by South Korea in their first match, Iran trampled the USA 52-15 to announce their entry into the tournament. Showing stunning defensive and attacking prowess, Iran continued to demolish opponents, one after the other and underline their credentials as title contenders further.
They thrashed Thailand 64-23 in their second match of the tournament and then claimed wins over Kenya and Japan to qualify for the semi-final. Going into the last game, it was a foregone conclusion that Iran would destroy Poland and set up a semi-final clash with India. However, they ended up losing to Poland, a side that lost 65-25 to Thailand and 33-22 to Kenya, and opening up the possibility of Thailand topping Group B.
Thailand, who have been a surprise package throughout the tournament, demolished the USA 69-22 to take one more step towards the semi-final. And as expected, they ended up beating Japan in a close contest to win a semi-final birth and finish on top of Group B.
Why was their defence so poor on the night?
A closer look at the game between Iran and Poland makes things even more shocking. While they might not be powerhouses in attack, Iran’s defensive prowess is second to none, not even India. They have affected 62 successful tackles during the group stages and to concede 41 points to Poland was quite shocking. Here are the points conceded by Iran during the 2016 Kabaddi World Cup before the match against Poland: 15 (USA), 23 (Thailand), 28 (Kenya), 34 (Japan).
It could be argued that Iran were not playing a full strength side but the presence of Meraj Sheykh and Fazel Atrachali would have been enough to ensure an Iranian win, given how poor Poland have been in defence. Ironically, Fazel Atrachali had more touch points than tackle points in the game against Poland, thereby summing up how Iran performed.
Iran, without a shadow of a doubt, have the strongest defence in the tournament and breaching that would be tough for a top team, let alone a side like Poland. Without taking anything away from the European side, it is a little unbelievable how a team in such great form would lose to one of the weaker sides in the tournament.
As it panned out, Thailand defeated Japan and will take on India in the semi-final while Iran will face South Korea in the semi-final, something that can be called an easier fixture. Before Poland’s match against Iran, there were already talks of how the latter would be a big threat to India’s march towards the final.
Did Iran lose deliberately and dodge a big bullet? Nothing can be said for sure but all facts and figures point towards no other conclusion.