Karnataka edges out Mizoram as the group topper; sets up semis clash with Bengal!

28th March’18, Kolkata : Karnataka edged out a second-string Mizoram team by a solitary goal and thus emerged as the group topper in group B at Mohun  Bagan Ground in Kolkata on Wednesday. Karnataka came on the backdrop of a loss to Punjab and virtually turned it into a must-win game for themselves to make it to the knock-out stage.

Rajesh S the Karnatakan forward scored the only goal of the match in the 74th minute to gift an all important win after his side dominated almost the entire game.

Mizoram sprang up surprises by making 8 changes to their squad with only Zomuanpiua,Tochhawng and Mamawitea being the regular players in the starting XI ,while Karnataka picked their first choice XI as it was a must win game for them.

Evidently it was Karnataka who started with more intent and had an on-target attempt in the first minute itself when their skipper Vignesh took a crack at the goal, testing the debutant Mizo custodian Andrew’s resilience. Andrew stood strong and parried away gifting a corner jto his opposition.

Mizoram also got a chance in the 6th minute  but the shy at the goal by Rammawia swayed well over the crosspiece. Karnataka had 3 more chances fell to their captain Vignesh Gunashekar and Liton Shil, the forward and Shamanth Hanumania. But neither of them could capitalise on those chances as either they blasted the ball well above the crossbar or too wide as the southern side enjoyed a fair share of possession.

In the the 19th minute Mizoram got a nice opportunity as Malsawmzuala tried an extravagant bicycle kick just in front of the goal but slight miscued connection saw his attempt end wide of the right bar post.

Mizoram had another chance three minutes later when Malsawmzuala passed the ball from middle to his right to Lalmuanzova, whose cracking attempt at near post was barely managed to be kept away by Karnataka keeper, diving low to his right and Sukesh Leon tracked back to make a goal line clearance from the ensuing corner.

But these rare counters didn’t deter Karnataka from launching into atrtacks every now and then.  One of the best chance of this half came in the 25th minute through Rajesh who scored the winning goal. He took a breezy run through the left flank  after winning the ball and cut through the middle into the box before blasting  a powerful shot towards the top net. Mizo keeper managed to get his hands on time but couldn’t grip the ball properly as it fell to Leon Augustine . Leon attempted a bumped header which shot up enough high to miss both the goalie and the target alike.

Mizoram continued to survive in the first half showing resilience through-out the process. First Leon’s curling attempt towards left bottom corner was handsomely saved by Andrew ; then Rajesh shot yet again into Andrew’s hands in their next move. Just before the half time whistle, Mizoram managed to get another attempt at the goal.

Tha Siama stretched  the Karnataka defense from right and played a minus, back towards the middle where Laltan Puia gave a dummy to allow Rammawia take the shot, which sailed over the crossbar and both the teams went into the break, goalless.

Karnataka came back into the second half with more vengeance and it seemed a matter of time before they manage to break the deadlock. Mizoram on the other hand wasn’t at their natural attacking mode as the inexperience of the midfield and the frontline was showing in their inability to make their moves count in the final third.

Mizoram scared Karnataka’s wits out in the 52nd minute when a corner by Lalmuanzova wasaffectd by a header flick by Malsawmzuala MC which went over the head of Karnataka goalie before being  headed away  from the far post goalline by Shahbaaz Khan. In the 65th minute  Karnataka got yet another chance. Rajesh cut through the right flank and stretched the Mizo right back before dribbling past him. He squared it off to Vignesh whose hurried shot was again, just above the crosspiece.

Mizoram coach sensing the doldrum and immobilisation in the middle of the turf had his first substitution two minutes later as Liana came on for Mamawitea in the midfield. But it disn’t pay any dividends for the highlanders as they finally conceded the only goal of the goal 7 minutes later.

It was in the 74th minute when Sukesh Leon’s flag-kick resulted in a goalmouth melee but Rajesh S, showing great presence of mind slotted the ball from a close range where he was loitering around prior to it.He broke into a wild celebration as it was a culmination of more than hours resilience and determination from the southern side.

Frustration piled up on Mizoram as they had their head coach Lalsangzuala Hmar sent off to the stands for arguing with the referee and then Malsawmzuala MC too got the first bookings of the match for a rough tackle. Mizoram coach was visibly upset with the referee’s decision as it was a complete misunderstanding from the both ends and was determined to lodge a complaint against the decision after the match.

Lalromawia was brought in with four minutes left in regulation time but the midfielder, who had scored four goals in the group stage couldn’t manage to find the back of the net in the remaining few minutes.

Both sides finished with nine points each from four games but Karnataka topped  the group on head-to-head basis. Thus Mizoram will  face Kerala in the same ground while Karnataka set up a date against defending champions and the hosts Bengal, in the other semis at Howrah Stadium on 30th March.