Bangalore, Oct 1: Last year’s runners-up Karnataka squandered a 2-0 lead and went down 2- 3 to Air India who scored the match winner just as the hooter went to enter the final of Hockey India’s second senior men’s National hockey championship here on Monday.
In Tuesday’s final, Air India will take on Punjab who earlier knocked out defending champions Haryana 4-1.
Air India, out of the frame for a major portion of the match with Karnataka leading 2-0 on goals by Pundalik Bellary (32nd) and Nitin Thimmaiah (44th), enjoyed a profitable 20-minute spell when they scored thrice.
Arjun Halappa converted two penalty strokes (50th, 61st) before Vinaya Vokkaliga slammed home from a penalty corner just after the final hooter went bringing the curtain down on a stormy match that saw three yellow card suspensions.
The biggest losers were Karnataka who were clearly the better team, but failed to maintain composure under pressure in a game that was not short on provocative actions.
Karnataka, boasting of younger, fitter and faster players, were left to rue the half-a-dozen opportunities they missed, especially in the first-half when they should have scored more than once before Bellary found the net off a Rafeeq Sheikh pass just before half-time.
After resumption, Karnataka continued in the same vein to take a 2-0 lead when Nitin Thimmaiah finished a fine solo run with a reverse hit to the boards, with goalkeeper Gurpreet Singh letting the ball through between his feet.
Thereafter, the match turned as Karnataka, unhappy with a few umpiring decisions lost their composure especially after Air India were awarded a penalty stroke following a stick-check infringement on Shivendra Singh inside the circle.
Halappa converted to put Air India back in the game and the veteran forward came good with another penalty stroke nine minutes later when Vinaya’s penalty corner attempt struck defender Bipin Bopaiah on the foot.
With the match level at 2-2, tempers were on short fuse leading to yellow card suspension of Halappa and Karnataka captain VR Raghunath in the 62nd minute. The hosts were then reduced to nine when Nikin Thimmaiah was sent out on a yellow card.
Air India stepped up the pressure and with about a minute left for the close, received a penalty corner that Vinaya converted on the second attempt even as the hooter went.
Karnataka team coach Kishore said: “I thought we played extremely well, but unfortunately, things did not go our way in the end when a couple of decisions went against them, but yes, it would be a good experience for the boys.”
The results (semi-finals)
Air India 3 (Arjun Halappa 50th, 61st; Vinaya Vokkaliga 70th) beat Karnataka 2 (Pundalik Bellary 32nd; Nitin Thimmaiah 44th).
Punjab 4 (Gurjinder Singh 15th, 21st; Sarvanjit Singh 51st; Satbir Singh 58th) beat Haryana 1 (Naveen Antil 58th) (Detailed Report here).
Schedule of Finals:
Final: Air India vs Punjab at 3:30PM
Bronze match: Haryana Vs Karnataka at 1PM
Hockey India Press Release