With a 2-1 victory over Punjab, Karnataka held its turf when confronted by a bully who threatened to take over.
An aggressive attitude — backed by a vastly superior physical presence — gave Punjab the edge in its 64th senior National hockey championship match, but Karnataka made up in skill.
The host (11 points) has now booked a spot in the final of the Rangaswamy Cup, where it will face either Mumbai (10 points after completing all its league fixtures), or Uttar Pradesh (seven points with a match in hand).
Uttar Pradesh, which faces Manipur on Wednesday, must win by a 13-goal margin to advance to the summit clash.
In a crucial match, Karnataka drew first blood when Naveen Kumar scored in the 10th minute. Punjab then chose to employ the odd shoulder-check and stick-poke to the body, which unsettled the mild-mannered opponent.
A few choice words aimed at the Karnataka players (and even the umpires) tilted the tide in its favour, and Punjab soon reaped the rewards with an equaliser in the 50th minute.
The North-Zone champion seemed likely to eventually force Karnataka into submission. It took a clutch of reflex saves from the goalkeeper, Mahan Gowda, to keep Karnataka from calling it quits.
As the battle drew to a close, Karnataka’s diminutive substitute J.P. Kusha sneaked past an imposing wall of defenders, and tapped a shot on target. The goalkeeper blocked the shot, but the rebound was sent home by Vinayak Bijwad.
After his team survived several glancing, yet damaging blows, Vinayak’s perfect punch knocked Punjab out of the park.
Mumbai 21 (Victo Singh 9, Ravi Pareek 3, Vikram Singh 2, Jayanta Meitei 2, Vikram Pillay 2, Laxman Rao, Rajat Sharma, Gnanendrajit Ningobam) bt Manipur 3 (L. Punachandra 2, P. Priyokumar); Uttar Pradesh 11 (John Paul Xaxa 4, Prem Kumar 3, Imran Khan 2, Ravi Bharti 2) bt Jharkhand 0; Karnataka 2 (Naveen Kumar, Vinayak Bijwad) bt Punjab 1 (og).
Keywords: 64th senior National hockey championship