Riyadh (Saudi Arabia), March 4 (IANS) Karnataka ended a 54-year-old title drought in the 76th National Football Championships for the Santosh Trophy when they defeated first-timers Meghalaya 3-2 in a well-fought final at the King Fahd International Stadium, here on Saturday.
The young Karnataka team comprising reserve players from Bengaluru FC and some talented players from clubs from the Bengaluru District Football Association’s Super Division League made history when it won the first Santosh Trophy final to be played on foreign soil.
Karnataka had last won their fourth title as Mysore way back in 1968-69 at Banglore and had since then reached the final only in 1974-75. They have finished runners-up on five occasions.
However, the team coached by Ravi Babu Raju exceeded all expectations and quelled a strong challenge by Meghalaya to claim a memorable victory and a historic title.
M Sunil Kumar (2nd min), Bekey Oram (19th min) and Robin Yadav (44th min) scored the goals for Karnataka while Brolington Warlarpih (7th min) and Sheen Stevenson (60th min) scored for Meghalaya in the game of two halves.
Karnataka played a tactically superior game and caught Meghalaya on the wrong foot off counterattacks. They dominated the midfield and though Meghalaya fought back well in the second half, their forwards missed some crucial chances as they fell short.
Karnataka took the lead in the second minute of a frantic first half when Sunil M’s shot went in off defender Bankhemi Mawlong’s leg after defender Robin Yadav set him up with a superb long throw.
But Meghalaya came back within a few minutes when they were awarded a penalty when forward Sheen Stevenson was brought down by defender Nikhil G with a body block as the Meghalaya star made a fine run into the box from the left side. Defender Brolington Warlarpih converted from the spot comfortably to make it 1-1.
Karnataka took control of the midfield and made some superb attacks as they took a 3-1 lead just before the breather.
Forward Jacob John Kaitooaren floated a ball into the far corner to M Sunil Kumar, who centred it and Bekey Oram tapped the high ball into the net past the goalkeeper to make it 2-1 for Karnataka in the 19th minute.
Karnataka had a couple of more chances to add to their tally but their forwards either shot wide or were thwarted by the defenders. Meghalaya had one chance to reduce the margin but Donlad Diengdoh’s shot off a superb attack was deflected out by a defender.
Karnataka made it 3-1 when Robin Yadav planted a superb free-kick into the top left corner for his sixth goal (four freekicks, one penalty, one field goal) of the tournament. Robin, who is part of the Bengaluru FC reserves, thus became the third-highest scorer in the tournament behind joint leaders Naro Hari Shrestha of West Bengal and Nijo Gilbert of Kerala, who have nine goals each.
Just when it looked like Karnataka were cruising towards victory, Meghalaya reduced the margin when Sheen Stevenson struck in the 60th minute after Donlad Diengdoh played a dummy off a pass by Banskheml Mawlong to distract the defenders.
Meghalaya created a lot of pressure in the last half hour of the match in search of the equaliser but the Karnataka defense stood strong and thwarted them. They were also denied in second-half added time when an attempt by Ronaldkydo Lyngdoh went off the top of the crosspiece.
Rajat Paul Lyngdoh (Meghalaya) with 6 clean sheets in 12 matches was adjudged as the Best Goalkeeper of the Championship while Robin Yadav (Karnataka), who scored six goals in the tournament including one in the final, got the Player of the Championship award.