Kabaddi Masters Dubai 2018: India firm favourites in inaugural edition
Dubai, Jun 21 (PTI) Giants India will start firm favourites when they lock horns with arch-rivals Pakistan in the opening game of the inaugural six-nation 'Kabaddi Masters Dubai 2018' here tomorrow.
The tournament will provide an excellent opportunity for Asian countries India, Pakistan, Iran and Korea to get battle-ready for the Asian Games in Jakarta and Palembang, starting August 18.
India are the defending champions and have won gold in every edition of the tournament since the sport was inducted in the main roster in the 1990 Asiad.
"Asian Games will once again have Iran, Pakistan, and Korea among other teams and this tournament will be like a semi-final. It will be a good opportunity for preparation," India coach Srinivas Reddy said.
India are clubbed with Pakistan and newcomers Kenya in group A, while group B features Iran, Republic of Korea and Argentina with top two teams making the semifinals.
'Flying raider' Ajay Thakur will lead India's challenge after returning at the helm at the expense of longstanding captain Anup Kumar.
Under Thakur, India beat Pakistan in successive matches en route to clinch the Asian Championship in Iran a year ago.
Besides Thakur, the Indian team also has quality raiders in Rahul Chaudhari, Pardeep Narwal, Rohit Kumar, Rishank Devadiga and Monu Goyat in their ranks.
In Deepak Hooda, Manjeet Chhillar, Surender Nada and Girish Ernak India also boast of top-class all-rounders and defenders to lend a perfect balance to the side.
The second match of the opening day will see 2016 World Cup finalists Iran take on Republic of Korea.
Two-time Asian Games runners-up Iran will be favourites to top group B and would look to challenge heavyweights India down the line.
Iran have lost to India thrice in the final of the Kabaddi World Cup (2004, 2007 and 2016) and the six-nation meet will provide an excellent opportunity to reignite their rivalry.
All eyes would be on Argentina who are new to the sport and their president Ricardo Acuna said: "The introduction of kabaddi in Argentina has redefined sports participation. This will surely be a moment of reckoning for Argentina's kabaddi talent."
The event, organised by the International Kabaddi Federation in partnership with Star India Pvt Ltd, will likely witness the emergence of new talents.
"Kabaddi Masters Dubai 2018 is our first step in that direction and will elevate the stature of our sport considerably. We are thankful to the Dubai Sports Council as well as Star India for their strong role in making this happen," IKF president Janardan Singh said.
Match starts: India vs Pakistan 8pm IST; Iran vs Korea 9pm IST