Santosh Trophy qualifiers: Karnataka crushes Telangana

Karnataka was hugely impressive against a hapless Telangana side, dominating possession and stitching together some fluid moves. S. Rajesh, Liton Shil and Shahabaaz Khan were the goal-scorers.

Liton Shil (L) scored a brace in Karnataka's win over Telangana in the Santosh Trophy qualifiers.   -  Sudhakara Jain

Karnataka crushed Telangana 5-0 to begin its Santosh Trophy qualifying campaign on a rousing note at the Football Stadium here on Wednesday.

READ: Sunil Chhetri says SantoshTrophy deserves more attention

S. Rajesh and Liton Shil both scored braces before the left-back Shahabaaz Khan found the net with a half-volley from the edge of the box.

Karnataka was hugely impressive against a hapless Telangana side, dominating possession and stitching together some fluid moves. Rajesh put the home side ahead early on, after Liton sent him through on goal.

The RWF striker is only available to play for Karnataka because Railways is not competing in the Santosh Trophy this time; head coach P. Muralidharan will be grateful.

Telangana had an opportunity to equalise but Y. Anilkumar Singh missed from point-blank range. That was as good as it would get. Seconds later, Karnataka stormed down the pitch, and right-back M. Sunil Kumar swung in a cross that Liton buried in the net.

The host took its foot off the pedal for the rest of the first half, but the intensity was back after the interval. S.K. Azaruddin's free-kick came off the crossbar before, soon after the hour-mark, Liton scored his second and the team's third. A minute later, Rajesh delighted the crowd with a stunning, acrobatic bicycle kick from N. Solaimalai's cross.

Bengaluru FC's Shahabaaz, who was excellent down the left flank all afternoon, lashed home Karnataka's fifth; it was nothing less than what his side deserved.

Although pleased with the result, Muralidharan had one concern. “We missed so many sitters today; if we do this against stronger teams, it will be a problem for us,” he said.

The veteran coach Shabbir Ali, who is now in charge of Telangana, admitted that his side had not been good enough. “Our players don't get enough competitive games; that's the problem,” the former Mohammedan Sporting coach lamented.

“I was surprised by the way Karnataka played. They showed a lot of purpose; they had variations.”

Later, Services recovered from a shaky start to defeat Pondicherry 4-1. The latter took the lead via a remarkable free-kick, but shot itself in the foot with multiple errors at the back.

The results:

Group A: Karnataka 5 (S. Rajesh 7, 69, Liton Shil 18, 68, Shahabaaz Khan 83) bt Telangana 0; Services 4 (Arjun Tudu 20, Nanish Singh 59, Gautham Singh 72, P. Saji [OG] 86) bt Pondicherry 1 (G. Karthikeyan 9).

Tomorrow's match: Group B: Kerala vs. Andhra Pradesh, 4 p.m.

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