Goals galore on opening day

MUMBAI, NOV. 1. Goals are the lifeline of football, but too many can become an embarrassment to many involved with promotion of the game. First day, first show of the 57th Santosh Trophy National football championships saw Services running amok against Rajasthan at the University stadium, winning 11-0 to set the tone for the day. Goalkeepers wrung their hands in despair under the bar, fans felt cheated, talent spotters jotted down names mechanically on one side of the team sheet and local television channels switched off cameras after the first half.

Four cluster matches produced 31 goals, Madhya Pradesh's 4-1 rout of Pondicherry at the Cooperage being the lowest margin of victory. The only plus point from this massacre of innocents may be a hastening of the All India Football Federation's resolve to change the Nationals format from a one- centre logistical nightmare to a more realistic zonal one, giving only the better equipped teams an opportunity to strut on the national stage.

Karnataka's international goalkeeper N.Balaji's name may have found a mention in AIFF talent spotter S. S. Narayan's list, but the double Olympian with such a powerful presence in the Indian goal during his glory days will like to see Balaji tested against a better bunch of strikers. Daman and Diu, Karnataka's next opponent, may be wondering about ways to keep the scoreline down after witnessing the rout in broad daylight.

Karnataka won 7-1, three goals coming through Xavier Vijay Kumar even as his teammates Sheikh Sanjib, Dayanand, Rajendra Prasad and S. Sunil got their names on the scorers list. The former went 5-0 up at half-time, undeterred by the change of goalkeeper in the J & K goal, then tried out setpiece moves at their own pace in the second half while banging in two more.

J & K must be credited for not giving up hope despite the unnerving experience for their defenders and custodian. Intikhab Alam showed a brief flash of brilliance with a shot on the turn on the right, but Karnataka goalkeeper Balaji seized the only chance to show his class, leaping to his left at the right time to punch the ball away for a corner. He has beaten by a clever penalty conversion by Alam's teammate Deepak Sangral, J & K's only goal of the match.

Referee Manuel Pereira, who awarded the penalty for Dhanesh's tackle on Rasheed Sofi on the goalline, had an otherwise easy match as the Karnataka offensive went into top gear. Xavier Vijay Kumar opened the floodgates with a sixth minute strike, beating the J & K offside trap and completing the move with an effortless placement past goalkeeper Sonu Kumar. The timing of Xavier's run through the middle, anticipating the long overhead pass coming from the halfline was so good that any defence would have been beaten.

Friday's matches: Tamil Nadu vs Gujarat (Cluster VIII), Mizoram vs Andhra Pradesh (III), Chandigarh vs Arunachal Pradesh (VII), Delhi vs Orissa (VII), Punjab vs Tripura (IV).

The results:

Cluster VI: Karnataka 7 (Xavier Vijay Kumar 3, Sheikh Sanjib, Dayanand, Rajendra Prasad, S. Sunil) bt J & K 1 (Deepak Sagral).

Cluster V: Madhya Pradesh 4 (Dharmendra Khare, V. Shibu 2, Rehmat Baig) bt Pondicherry 1 (S. Newton).

Cluster II: Manipur 7 (Nilakumar Singh 2, Tikken Singh 2, Stephen Hamar, Rohen Singh, Manglemjao Singh) bt Himachal Pradesh 0.

Cluster I: Services 11 (V. K. Mishra 3 hat-trick, Sajit Kumar 3 hat-trick, Saroj Gurung 2, Amit Aich, Irudaya Raj, Semin Thang) bt Rajasthan 0.

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