Shahabaaz, Amoes secure hard-fought win for Karnataka

Pondicherry defended doggedly and was able to keep Karnataka at bay for about an hour, but the pressure finally told.

Liton Shil (second from left) heads away a cross. Pondicherry went on to lose 0-2.   -  G. P. Sampath Kumar

A profligate Karnataka side had to work hard to overcome Pondicherry in the Santosh Trophy South Zone qualifiers at the Football Stadium here on Friday. The host spurned a number of chances before second-half goals from Shahabaaz Khan and Amoes helped deliver a 2-0 victory over a resolute opponent. In the evening, Services needed a late winner to defeat Telangana 2-1.

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Karnataka and Services will now clash on Sunday in a fixture that will directly decide who progresses from Group A.

"We could have scored 10 goals today," said the Karnataka coach P. Muralidharan later. "It worries me that we are missing so many chances. We have our toughest match ahead."

A draw against Services will be enough for Karnataka to advance (on goal difference) but Muralidharan insisted he would not take such an approach. "Playing for a draw is very dangerous. We will play our normal game," he said.

For much of Friday afternoon, the coach cut a frustrated figure on the sidelines. Pondicherry defended with 10 men behind the ball and simply stifled Karnataka's attackers through the middle of the pitch. The defender S. Karunanithi was at the heart of this stonewalling effort, proving adept at heading away any aerial balls too. Liton Shil had the ball in the net but the goal was correctly ruled out for offside.

Karnataka continued to knock on the door in the second half. Shil's header struck the crossbar while Leon Augustine fired over from close range. The breakthrough finally came after an hour of trying. The enterprising left-back Shahabaaz drove into the box and fired at goal. His shot was blocked first-time; Shahabaaz pounced on the rebound, though, and tucked the ball into the net from an acute angle.

With the clock ticking down, Pondicherry nearly equalized but Kabilan Colame failed to hit the target from 10 yards out. A minute later, a superb, deep cross from N. Solaimalai found Amoes in the box and the substitute finished expertly with his left foot.

The Pondicherry assistant coach, Paneer Selvam, rued that his team had not been able to prepare well, with only a mud ground to train on. The captain, K. Sugumaran, said he was playing in his seventh Santosh Trophy but was yet to find sports-quota employment. “Out-station players can turn out for Pondicherry and find jobs in their home states,” he stated. “But our players are not being recruited anywhere.”

The results: Group A: Pondicherry 0 lost to Karnataka 2 (Shahabaaz Khan 64, Amoes 89); Telangana 1 (Kumar Dhanala 59) lost to Services 2 (Nanish Singh 25, Laishram Herojit Singh 89).
Saturday's matches: Group B: Andhra Pradesh vs. Tamil Nadu, 4 p.m.
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