Amitabha Das Sharma

SRINAGAR: Karnataka rode its luck to beat last year’s semifinalist Maharashtra by a solitary goal in the opening Group ‘B’ match, in the 62nd senior National football championship for the Santosh Trophy here on Friday.

In another match in the same group, last year’s runner-up Bengal was held to a goalless draw by Goa.

Looking to better its chances to make the semifinals, Karnataka struggled against an off-colour Maharashtra. The former grappled with striking woes. But an opportunistic goal late in the match by seasoned midfielder Xavier Vijay Kumar sealed the match.

Karnataka onslaught fell apart once the ball reached the opponent’s box. Strikers Sanath Kumar and Nabeel looked unsure of their roles. The two could only manage a few half-hearted efforts that hardly tested the Maharashtra custodian, Sharath Chandran. Though the midfield — with centre half Rajendra Prasad and right winger Xavier Vijay Kumar showing conviction and purpose — stuck to its task of feeding the attack, the strikers could not compliment the hard work.

Maharashtra fought incompetence in every department. Despite fielding a selection from I-league clubs like Air-India and ONGC, the Maharashtra line-up never looked to match its reputation.

Providential assistance

A misfiring attack-line apparently left the Karnataka coach R. Thyagaraj looking for providential assistance, which came in the 61st minute. A Rajendra Prasad long-ranger hit the upright and rebounded off the back of the Maharashtra goalkeeper and Vijay Kumar had no problem tapping the ball into an open net as the opposition defence stood rooted.

In the other match, Bengal and Goa were evenly scrappy. With the fixtures pitting them against each other in the very first outing of the quarterfinal league, the two preferred to play cautious and looked happy with splitting the points.

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