Karnataka run into Air India today

The league phase with 32 teams was largely lopsided with the big guns pummelling the weaker ones without any problem.

The Air India-Karnataka quarterfinal clash is the one to watch out for. Both sides have a fair sprinkling of internationals. Then, there is the young Orissa team, comprising mostly tribal players, taking on the experienced Haryana, who boast of drag-flick expert Sandeep Singh and the country’s best defender Sardar Singh.

In the other two quarterfinal games, strong Punjab will play Bihar and Jharkhand run into Railways. Both Jharkhand and Railways have more than a handful of Orissa players who have switched loyalties. Roshan Minz, Bikas Toppo, Dinesh Ekka are some of the Orissa players in the Jharkhand team.

The going has been tough for Air India. They fought off strong show from Uttar Pradesh before managing to scrape through 3-2 to make it to the last eight.

Led by Olympian Sameer Dad, Air India have current Indian team captain Arjun Halappa, Gurbaj Singh, Shivendra Singh, Vikram Pillay and stalwart Dhanraj Pillay.

Karnataka coach BJ Kariappa said that his team was looking to drag-flicker Raghunath, who not long ago was part of the senior side, to produce results. Raghunath has converted seven penalty corners, the most in the tournament. Sandeep is next with six conversions.

With Prabhjot Singh, Deepak Thakur, goalkeeper Bharat Chetri and Hari Prasad at their disposal, Karnataka have the team to go all the way.

“Our set pieces have been highly productive. The junior boys have given good support to seniors and we hope we can maintain and keep up the good performance,” says Kariappa.

Chetri knows that it is a do or die battle. “Whoever wins the match can go on to win the championship,” he said.

The exodus of seniors seems to have come as a blessing in disguise for Orissa as they now have a young squad who have done really well. They are still to concede a goal in the championship, having beaten Andaman and Nicobar (13-0), Jammu and Kashmir (4-0) and Madhya Pradesh Academy (3-0).

“It is an under-19 team playing here. We have covered all the areas well and have come so far, and I believe we can go further,”  Orissa coach KC Choudhury said.

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