Mizoram in semifinals; Karnataka maintains winning momentum

S. Rajesh came up with the winning goal for Karnataka.

Leon Augustine (8) of Karnataka tries to get past a Odisha defender.   -  Debasish Bhaduri

Mizoram preserved two early strikes to ensure a 2-1 win over Punjab in a Group-B league match and in the process became the first side to secure a semifinal berth in the ongoing National Football Championship for the Santosh Trophy at the Sailen Manna Stadium Howrah on Saturday.

In another match of the same group, Karnataka thwarted a spirited challenge from Odisha before downing the latter 2-1 with a late winner at the Rabindra Sarobar Stadium. The win, which was the second in succession, helped Karnataka remain in the hunt for a semifinal berth.

Read: Mizoram upsets Goa with comeback win

Leon Augustine and S. Rajesh found the target once in each half to help Karnataka secure the full quota of points. Arjun Nayak produced the lone reply for Odisha midway through the first half.

In the other match Mizoram dictated the terms from the beginning thanks to a double strike from Lalremruata, who scored both goals for his side in the first 10 minutes of the action. Punjab pulled one back through Jitender Rawat in the second half but that was not enough to stop Mizoram from securing the win, which took its point-tally to nine from three wins while assuring a place in the last-four stage.

As Karnataka took time to adjust to the conditions, Odisha donned the aggressor’s role and had almost found the target in the ninth minute but for the former’s custodian C. P. Shainkhan, who saved a fine effort from Bikash Padhihary. Karnataka gradually took control of the proceedings and found the target in the 26th minute, when winger Leon Augustine outwitted a host of opposition defenders to score a fine solo goal. Just when it appeared that Karnataka would be carrying the lead into the interval, Odisha skipper Arjun Nayak nodded home a cross from Kartika Bhola to find the equaliser in the added time.

The action following the break turned a bit sluggish as both the sides lapsed into a defensive shell. Karnataka was the more assertive of the two but its efforts were not sharp enough to help it regain the lead. On the other hand Odisha had a fine opportunity to secure the lead in the 81st minute but Arbin Lakra missed the target from close. S. Rajesh brought cheers in the Karnataka camp as he produced the crucial finish in the 87th minute latching on to an assist from Gunashekar Vignesh, who set him up with a short chip on the Odisha goalmouth.

The results

Group B: Karnataka 2 (Leon Augustine 26, S. Rajesh 87) bt Odisha 1 (Arjun Nayak 45+3); Mizoram 2 (Lalremruata 7, 9) bt Punjab 1(Jitender Rawat 56)

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