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Karnataka, Punjab inch ahead in battle for Riyadh spots, Kerala manage to stay afloat

BHUBANESWAR: Karnataka and Punjab’s victories in Group A of the National Football Championships for the Hero Santosh Trophy on Tuesday, February 14, 2023, have set them apart from the chasing pack, with two rounds left to play here. A clinical performance by Karnataka saw them beat Goa 2-0, while Punjab edged hosts Odisha later in the day. In the day’s third game, defending champions Kerala came from behind to take a point, and keep their hopes to qualify for the knockouts alive.

Punjab 2 (Jang Bahadur Singh 75’, Kamaldeep 82’)


Odisha 1 (Anand Oram 90’ + 3’)

In a high-pressure game between two unbeaten sides — both avoiding losses thanks to late flurries — it was always going to come down to who blinked first. Or even a moment of pure genius. And it took Punjab a dose of both to get a vital win in Group A. 

Buoyed by a sizable and vocal home support, Odisha were the clear winners of the first half, if possession, chances created, shots on goal and even attacking intent were the measures to decide results. A pattern was set early in the half, Odisha building patiently from the back, Prabin Tigga and Rakesh Oram marshalling the defence and also using their experience to initiate forays into the Punjab half. 

Punjab, for their part played what is colloquially called ‘Punjab style’, booting the ball high and long, and challenging for the first and second ball, hoping something fell their way. It may not have been visually spectacular but it had the desired effect, negating Odisha’s high-flying centre backs and keeping them on their toes. Coach Hardeep Saini had prepared his boys to play without the ball for that first period, and encouraged the long ball tactic, if only to let Odisha’s patience fray. 

Then in the second half, he shook things up. Two substitutions, Kamaldeep and Bipul Kala coming on for Rohit Sheikh and Rajbir Singh, turned things around completely for Punjab. The duo, like replacements, wingers, both, brought a pace and finesse to Punjab’s which had remained dormant in the first period. 

In an end to end game, Punjab slowly started edging more of the key moments, their combination of physicality and finesse rattling Odisha. The hosts’ frustration was evident in the slow buzz hum that started emanating from the sidelines, where their fans were gathered. 

When the goals came, they came in a pair, Jang Bahadur Singh, sliding one past goalkeeper Ankit Bhuyan after making a brilliant run into the box, taking a long ball and giving Punjab the lead. The second was one straight for the highlight reel. Kamaldeep picked up the ball 30 yards from goal, after Punjab had seen a corner cleared and shot blocked. It was an innocuous enough attacking move, except this time rather than turning to the side and laying it off, the 18-year-old took a step up, rolled the ball and let fly. Bhuyan was left standing, watching, the best seat in the house for one of the goals of the Final Round. The entire team ran towards him in a huddle.

And yet, there was more drama to come. Odisha pressed forward, and shot over, hit the post and missed chances before finally finding the net in the third minute of injury time. The last stages of the game saw them desperately try and get an equaliser, but it was not to be.

Saini was clear about what changed the game, and also warned his boys against thinking the job was done. “It was a plan to bring the two youngsters in later,” he said. “They had played two games continuously and I sensed a bit of fatigue. Its necessary to protect young players who often don’t know how to protect themselves, so I was happy to use them from the bench. But, the job isn’t done. This is a tough group. Just one result can change things around.”

For Punjab the final challenges will come in the form of Kerala and Goa, with one win enough to see them through.  

Karnataka 2 (Jacob John Kattookaren 33’, Abhishek Shankar Powar 50’)


Goa 0

A clinical performance, in the first game of the day, saw Karnataka take three points against a hapless Goa side who have now lost all three games and are out of contention for the knockouts of the tournament. Goa had one of the first chances of the game early in the first half, a long range freekick somehow evading everyone before rolling past the post. From there though it was one-way traffic, Karnataka doing enough to get the win and also register a clean sheet, their second of the competition — something no other team has.

Kerala 4 (Vishak Mohanan 38’, Nijo Gilbert p 66’, V Arjun 70’, John Paul Jose 77’)

drew with 

Maharashtra 4 (Sufiyan Sheikh 17’, Himanshu Patil 20’, Sumit Bhandari 34’, Tejas Raut 42’)

 Kerala scraped a point coming back from a three-goal deficit in a high scoring encounter at the Kalinga Stadium. The draw virtually knocks Maharashtra out of contention for the knockouts and keeps Kerala’s hopes to do so hanging by a thread. Maharashtra went into the break leading 4-1 and seemingly having wrapped up the win. Kerala’s resurgence started with a Nijo Gilbert penalty, before two more goals set up a brilliant finish. In the end, the teams split honours.