Much needed, not deserved
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Nearly all hockey players in this young Karnataka side have grown up idolising Arjun Halappa, a happy-go-lucky guy from Coorg, who plies his trade for Air India. A mere mention of his name instantly summons profound respect. And the former India striker, too, is full of brotherly warmth and affection whenever he meets them, which happens quite often, considering they all hail from the same state.
On Monday evening, though, his name summoned instant disgust and rage among the host team Karnataka, while Halappa, the Air India captain, was full of wrath and had to be contained as he charged at a fellow Coorg resident, VR Raghunath, in a mid-pitch showdown.
The second semis of the national championships had every thing that the first — one played out between Haryana and Punjab — had promised but didn't deliver. The defending champs were beaten 4-1 in a one-sided game by a rampant Punjab, who could've scored as many more.
But what followed, more than made up for that no-contest. Karnataka versus Halappa's boys was packed with unrelenting intensity and had so much drama that it would've made for a fine script. Above all, there were some spectacular goals — with the last one of those, a buzzer beater, drilling a hole in the hearts of the partisan crowd. Halappa's Air India had just won 3-2, setting up a summit clash with Punjab. An inconsolable Karnataka, meanwhile, will fight it out with Haryana for the consolation prize.
Inconsolable, for they sat their in the dug-out wondering just how they had ended up squandering a 2-0 lead. The more they wondered, the more it fuelled their anger, towards the referee, who gave two penalty strokes to Air India in 11 minutes, and Halappa, after converting both got involved in a fracas with Raghunath that ended up with both of them being sent-off in the 62nd minute.