Hosts give no quarter
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The strapping Nitin Thimmaiah, clearly the best player on the pitch on Saturday, dispossessed an Andhra Pradesh defender and made a darting run down the left flank. Near the back line, he cut in sharply, spotted Nikin Thimmaiah in front of the goalmouth and hit a measured cross. Nikin controlled the ball all right, and with only goalkeeper to beat, nicked out. The move, coming in the second minute, set the tone of the match — Karnataka were at once brilliant and profligate.
The hosts, who have been steamrolling lesser sides, came up against a decent opposition for the first time in what was practically a pre-quarterfinal match. Their game hardly dipped as they thumped AP 5-1 in a pool B match to send a strong message to their last eight opponents Tamil Nadu. The message could have been about half-a-dozen goals stronger had they not missed the chances that came their way.
Their passing was brilliant, and runs along either flank incisive. Andhra defended doggedly, with the goalkeeper making some crucial saves, but under sustained pressure, they wilted. To be sure, AP had moments of their own in the match, but they were too few and far between. They might have matched the hosts when it came to skills, but were technically and physically inferior.
This Karnataka team's backbone is players from Coorg — 12 out of 18 in the squad are from this region, including captain and India drag-flicker VR Raghunath and the talented India midfielder SK Uthappa.
The Coorgis are tall, athletically built and hockey runs in their blood. Powered by this engine, the Karnataka team hit AP like a freight train.
Raghunath, who had looked jaded in the previous games, seemed to have found his rhythm when he converted a penalty corner in the 11th minute to put his team ahead. It was a near unstoppable drag-flick — nice and high — that hit the net bang in the middle.