Karnataka came up with a dominant performance to prevail over a fighting Meghalaya 3-2 in the final of the 76th National football championship for Santosh Trophy at the King Fahd International Stadium here on Saturday.
This was the first trophy for Karnataka which had previously won four times as the princely State of Mysore, after a gap of 54 years (after 1968-69). The win brought out wild celebrations in a couple of thousand Indian expatriates, who had turned up to see the two Indian States fight it out in the final at the Saudi Arabian capital.
Karnataka took a 3-1 lead at the break after which Meghalaya could only score one to reduce the margin. Sheen Stevenson pulled one back at the hour mark when Donlad Diengdoh left the ball with a nice dummy on a Banskhemlang Mawlong cross to leave the former with the chance (2-3).
This happened after the Karnataka midfielder Jacob John had missed two good chances to enhance the team’s lead.
Earlier, Karnataka went into the lead in the second minute, thanks to a long throw from Robin Yadav which opened the chance for Sunil Kumar to take a successful crack at the Meghalaya goal. The Karnataka wing-back fired an angular half-volley that deflected off the leg of a Meghalaya defender to find the net.
Karnataka’s joy was shortlived though, as Meghalaya won a penalty in the eighth minute when Karnataka defender G. Nikhil brought down Sheen Stevenson in his own box. Brolington Warlarphi found the net from the spot to bring Meghalaya on level terms.
Meghalaya had another close chance a couple of minutes later but Figo Syndai could not keep his shot on target. This appeared a costly mistake as Karnataka regained the lead in the 19th minute when Sunil Kumar brought down a Jacob John cross to set up Bekey Oram, who made no mistake with his finishing. Robin Yadav made it 3-1 just before half-time, sending home a delectable free-kick taken from just outside the box.
Earlier, Services won the third place beating Punjab 2-0 in the playoff match held before the final. Shafeel P.P. and Christopher Kamei found the target once in each half to realise the win for the 2018-19 champion.
The third-place playoff match also saw the introduction of the VAR system making it the first time an Indian men’s team played under the electronic referral procedure for the referee. The system was not used in the match but it was in place for the Saudi Arabian referee Mohammed Al Daqqash to consult.
Final: Meghalaya 2 (Brolington 8-pen, Sheen Stevenson 60) lost to Karnataka 3 (Sunil Kumar 2, Bekey 19, Robin 44).
Third-place playoff: Services 2 (Shafeel 7, Christopher 60) bt Punjab 0.