By Avishek Roy
Bhopal, June 20 (IANS) Haryana overcame a stiff challenge from Karnataka to win a thrilling final 2-1 and clinch the senior national hockey championship title at the Aishbagh Stadium here Sunday.
Sandeep Singh converted a penalty corner in the 13th minute and Karnataka replied through V.R. Raghunath's drag flick in the 40th. Mandeep Anil struck the winner with a brilliant reverse hit in the 52rd minute in front of a sizeable vociferous crowd.
Karnataka had numerous opportunities in the dying minutes of the match but they fumbled to give finishing touches to the well-orchestrated moves.
Both teams exhibited fast-paced and exciting hockey. They tested each other and were relentless in attack in the action-packed first half.
It was also a contest between two highly-rated drag flickers - Sandeep and Raghunath. The Karnataka defender piped Sandeep as the tournament's top scorer with 12 goals while the Haryana player finished with 11.
Karnataka got four penalty corners, two in both halves. The first two chances that came in the first half were wasted as Vikram Kanth and Irshad Ali failed to stop the bouncy ball while a foul in the crucial fourth penalty corner dashed Karnataka's hopes.
Karnataka wasted their first penalty corner in the 12th minute. Haryana earned an opportunity and Sandeep Singh made no mistake in slamming the ball past custodian Bharat Chetri.
Karnataka, however, were on target in the third short corner, which was converted by Raghunath to draw level.
Haryana immediately got another penalty corner but Chetri made three brilliant saves, two off rebounds. He stopped Sandeep's drag flick and then planted his pads to stop his reverse shot, and then another hit.
Karnataka had its best chance when captain Amar Aiyamma dribbled past the defenders from the left flank and centered the ball to K.M.Somanna, who faltered with only the goalie to beat.
The southern team then made several good moves that earned them another penalty corner, but the stopper again fumbled to negotiate the bounce of the turf and Raghunath could only rue the lost opportunity.
The second half saw Karnataka step up the attack and Raghunath equalised through the penalty corner. Forward Prabhjot Singh swiftly moved up and down the turf, creating many chances.
Antil then scored as he maneuvered the surrounding players to hit a reverse shot and Chetri could do little to stop it.
Karnataka captain Aiyamma centered the ball, but the chance went begging. Deepak Thakur also missed a chance. Prabhjot, M.B. Aiyappa and Aiyamma combined to open up the Haryana defence but the equaliser remained elusive.