Kabaddi WC: India takes on Thailand in semis

Thanks to Khomson Thongkham's rocking and smart display, Thailand outwitted four teams, Poland, Kenya, USA and Japan in the Group `B’ league and marched into the knock-out stage of the 12 team World Cup held after nine years.

Indian captain Anup Kumar acknowledged Thailand and its captain’s excellent demonstration in the raiding department.   -  Vijay Soneji

Khomsan Thongkham has been the bright spark in the ongoing 2016 Kabaddi World Cup. Thanks to the 190cm tall raider’s rocking and smart display, Thailand outwitted four teams, Poland, Kenya, USA and Japan in the Group `B’ league and marched into the knock-out stage of the 12 team World Cup held after nine years.

Putting up a splendid show that attracted much attention, Thailand may have also emerged as a new team from Asia to pose a challenge to established teams like India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Republic of Korea and Iran. Thailand’s real test will be against India in the second semifinal on Friday; the first will be between Incheon Asian Games silver medallist, Iran and the Republic of Korea.

A trooper in the Thai army, the 24-year-old Puneri Paltan player, Thongkham was one among the handful – the others being England Tope Adewalure and Keshav Gupta, Kenya’s David Mosambayi, Poland’s Michal Spiczko --- who lifted the profile of the competition that saw players with talent and expertise in multi-sports trying to embrace a new sport.

Thongkham has been the linchpin in Thailand’s attack and he did not let his team down in the crucial last league match against Japan on Wednesday night. He tallied 10 points and most importantly returned home after successful raids and points at crucial juncture.

A university level volleyball player (he’s a spiker) and learning Thailand’s most popular sport Muay Thai (kickboxing) and taekwando, Thongkham began to play kabaddi six years ago, benefited largely by the coaching of India’s Dr. Ramesh Bhendigiri and looked upon India captain Anup Kumar as his idol.

He has hardly fallen prey to the rival tackles and the discerning have been impressed by his skill and ability to escape. "Dr. Bhendigiri had a contract with a University for five years. His contract ended one month before the World Cup," said Thailand’s manager, Somprach Phonchoo.

Thailand’s performance against India (it lost to Iran 23-64) would revolve around Thongkham’s individual brilliance. Indian captain Anup Kumar acknowledged Thailand and its captain’s excellent demonstration in the raiding department.

The home team has been in rollicking form after the shock defeat against the Republic of Korea in the inaugural match of the competition on October 7.

"I don’t think I slept well that night and I don’t think the other Indian players slept well. We made mistakes in that match and I told the team that should we make simple mistakes again, India will be eliminated. It’s a semi-final and hence it’s a knock out match. We cannot make mistakes,’’ said Anup Kumar.

After the 32-34 loss against the Republic of Korea, India beat Australia, Bangladesh, Argentina and England with Pardeep Narwal (33 points) and Ajay Thakur (41 points) bringing out their raiding skills to the fore.

The Republic of Korea starts the knock-out as the only unbeaten team in the league. "We prepared well against India. We will play with a lot of confidence against Iran. They have good strong players," said the Korean captain Dong Ju Hong. Korea’s key player would be Jang Kun Lee.

In the course of the media meet, the four captains – Anup Kumar, Dong Ju Hong, Khomsan Thongkham and Iran’s Meraj Sheykh, said kabaddi would become an Olympic sport in the future. "More countries should promote kabaddi as India does," said Sheykh.

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