The strapping Nitin Thimmaiah,clearly the best player on the pitch on Saturday,dispossessed an Andhra Pradesh defender and made a darting run down the left flank. Near the back line,he cut in sharply,spotted Nikin Thimmaiah in front of the goalmouth and hit a measured cross. Nikin controlled the ball all right,and with only goalkeeper to beat,nicked out. The move,coming in the second minute,set the tone of the match Karnataka were at once brilliant and profligate.
The hosts,who have been steamrolling lesser sides,came up against a decent opposition for the first time in what was practically a pre-quarterfinal match. Their game hardly dipped as they thumped AP 5-1 in a pool B match to send a strong message to their last eight opponents Tamil Nadu. The message could have been about half-a-dozen goals stronger had they not missed the chances that came their way.
Their passing was brilliant,and runs along either flank incisive. Andhra defended doggedly,with the goalkeeper making some crucial saves,but under sustained pressure,they wilted. To be sure,AP had moments of their own in the match,but they were too few and far between. They might have matched the hosts when it came to skills,but were technically and physically inferior.
This Karnataka teams backbone is players from Coorg 12 out of 18 in the squad are from this region,including captain and India drag-flicker VR Raghunath and the talented India midfielder SK Uthappa.
The Coorgis are tall,athletically built and hockey runs in their blood. Powered by this engine,the Karnataka team hit AP like a freight train.
Raghunath,who had looked jaded in the previous games,seemed to have found his rhythm when he converted a penalty corner in the 11th minute to put his team ahead. It was a near unstoppable drag-flick nice and high that hit the net bang in the middle.
Andhra had shown some fight till that point,but that goal deflated them. Understandably so,for thanks to their inferior goal difference,they now needed two to advance. Soon they needed three as the relentless Karnataka scored again through Vikram Kanth. Kanth upon receiving a cross from Raghunath at the top of the circle,struck the ball with all his might on the turn sending it into the bottom left corner of the board.
Andhra were guilty of not passing the ball too much,depending more on dribbles and solo runs. When they pressed forward,it was hardly ever from the flanks. When they did,in the 23rd minute,it paid off.
On a counter attack from the left,Shyam Kumar centred a cross parallel to the backline. Avinash Chindrapu,who has positioned himself at the near post,deflected it but the goal-bound ball struck defender Darshan Dayavai on the foot. The referee blew the whistle and pointed to the spot. Sampath Kumar calmly slotted the ball in the top right corner to pull one back for AP.
Karnataka,particularly Nikin,missed a number of chances as AP went into the half-time miraculously keeping the score-line at 2-1 and harbouring hope.
It wasnt to be. In the 43rd minute,Nitin took off once again on the left,dodged two defenders and a charging goalkeeper before centering the ball to MK Mudappa for a tap in.
Five minutes later,Nitin went on a solo run after intercepting a cross and hit a thunderous diagonal strike on the dive to put his name on the scoresheet. Soon after,Uthappa rubbed it in with a tap in off a Mudappa cross. It was an eight minute burst where it looked like Andhra Pradesh didnt even exist on the field.
Earlier,Jharkhand scored nine past Sashatra Seema Bal in their last pool D match to set up a quarter-final clash against a formidable Air India. For Jharkhand Ajitesh Roy scored four goals while penalty corner specialist Diwakar Ram struck twice. Going into the break,they were leading 3-1,before taking the second set,so to speak,6-0. In the other two quarterfinals on Sunday,Haryana take on Manipur ,while Punjab face Railways.
Pool B: Karnataka 5 bt Andhra Pradesh 1; Himachal Pradesh 18 bt Mizoram 1; Pool D: Jharkhand 9 bt Sashstra Seema Bal 1; Chandigarh 7 bt Uttarakhand 1