Karnataka seal qualification

Karnataka seal qualification

Hosts rout Services 4-1 in thrilling final group game

Karnataka seal qualification

It was crunch time for Karnataka on Sunday and they delivered in style to seal their qualification for the 72nd Santosh Trophy with an entertaining 4-1 thumping of Services here.

The scoreline brought unbridled joy to the sizeable crowd at the Bangalore Football Stadium but it definitely wasn't a fair reflection of Services' fine attacking display.

The prolific Rajesh got onto the scoresheet twice (49th and 72nd minutes), while Azaruddin's (10th) penalty and Solaimalai's 89th minute strike sealed it for the hosts. Laishram Herojit Singh (86th) grabbed a late consolation goal for Services.

Nothing short of a victory would have sufficed for Services and they made their intent clear from the start, putting the Karnataka defenders under real pressure.

But it was Muralidharan's men, against the run of play, who broke the deadlock. Azaruddin twisted and turned  past defenders before getting into the box. As he tried to find space to get his shot away, the under-21 midfielder was fouled from behind by Prabhjot Singh and the referee was left with no choice but to point to the spot and Azaruddin made no mistake with the penalty.

The goal sparked a massive reaction from Services, who moved forward with real intent to find an equaliser.

It almost paid off with 25 minutes played when Gautam Singh crossed from the right touchline for Mukesh Kumar. Unfortunately, the defender's diving header struck the  post and cannoned back into play and Karnataka cleared their lines to protect their slim lead.

Services would have felt hard done to be trailing at the break, and their afternoon got worse four minutes into the second half.

Rajesh made a good run into the box and headed home Bengaluru FC's Leon Augustine's floated ball  as  Karnataka inched closer to qualification.

Fine play from Karnataka skipper Vignesh Gunashekar  made Services' task harder in the 72nd minute. After intercepting a pass, Vignesh darted forward, entered the opposition area and calmly laid off for Rajesh to grab his second of the day.

This definitely looked like curtains for Services but they kept attacking with a never-say-die attitude and received their reward in through Herojit, with the defender  poking into the net from close range.

Karnataka weren't done and it was the brilliant Vignesh in the thick of things again.  His beautiful chipped pass was collected by Solaimalai and the South United midfielder rounded Services custodian Sarath Narayanan to hand his side their first entry into the tournament proper since 2014.

"All credit must go to the boys. This was our ambition right from the time we started our camp in December. I am very satisfied with our performance and am confident that this team can go a long way in the tournament," said a delighted Muralidharan.

Earlier, Shabbir Ali's Telangana routed Puducherry 4-0 in their last Pool A fixture.

Madan Kumar (14th and 64th) and  Syed Abid Hussain Razvi (18th and 60th) ensured Telangana finished their South Zone qualifiers on a high.


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