Karnataka off to flying start

Karnataka off to flying start

Striker S Rajesh acrobatic effort studded Karnataka's emphatic 5-0 rout of Telangana in the opening Pool A fixture of the 72nd Santosh Trophy South Zone qualifiers on Wednesday.

Glorious conditions met the players at the Bangalore Football Stadium and with small pockets of fans egging the home side on, they did not disappoint, dishing out a thorough display of all-round football.

Rajesh (7th and 69th minutes), Liton Shil (18th and 68th) and Shahabaaz Khan (83rd) were prolific in front of goal for the hosts, but a special mention has to be made of Telangana custodian Sri Kumar P, without whose effort the scoreline could have hit double digits.

Familiar with the conditions and the stadium, Karnataka went all guns blazing from the whistle and retained possession well in an effort to find the opener.

They were rewarded just seven minutes in as, after latching on to Liton's pass in midfield, Rajesh made a run and let fly with a left-footed shot from the edge of the box to get the crowd on their feet.

Liton, who was instrumental in MEG's BDFA Super Division triumph in 2017, didn't take long to get into the thick of things and added his name to the score sheet after squeezing in Sunil's pass, at the near post, with a first-time strike.

Telangana did have their fair share of chances but they were well thwarted by Ozone FC's Shainkhan CP in the Karnataka goal.

Karnataka came out in the second period with the same intensity as in the first but their opponents, coached by former India international Shabbir Ali, were stoic in defence and kept a slight foot-hold in the game.

But two goals in two minutes from an unrelenting Karnataka put the result beyond doubt.  First, Shahabaaz teed-up Liton and after a couple of touches in the box, the striker rounded the 'keeper to put his side three goals to the good with just over 20 minutes to play left.

Rajesh then showcased an absolute moment of brilliance in the 69th minute. Solaimalai took his time on the right flank and sent in a lofted ball into the penalty area where Rajesh executed an overhead kick to perfection as vociferous celebrations enveloped the ground.

Just when Telangana thought things couldn't get worse, Shahabaaz struck with a pile-driver from 15 yards out to complete the demolition.

Karnataka skipper Vignesh G, while throwing light on Rajesh's goal, found the playing conditions a tad difficult.

"Rajesh always tries this (overhead kick) even in practice and is often scolded by the coach," quipped Vignesh.

"The ground tends to get really hot due to the rubber and that poses difficulties for us. We need to plan our game accordingly and keep possession well," he added.

In the second Pool A game, Services rallied to beat Puducherry 4-1.

Karthikeyan's thunderous free-kick handed Puducherry an unlikely lead in the 9th minute. But goals from Arjun Tudu (20th), Nanish Singh (59th), Gautam Singh (72nd) and on own goal from Saji P ensured that Services were home and dry.

Thursday's fixture: Kerala vs Andhra (4 pm).

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