New Delhi: Mandeep Singh and Dharamvir Singh combined for a classic field goal that earned India a hard-fought and possibly tournament-winning 3-2 win over a nifty Ireland outfit in the FIH Hockey World League on Thursday.
India who scored through Rupinderpal Singh in the 16th, VR Raghunath in the 39th and Dharamvir in the 56th minute were tested to the hilt in the last 15 minutes, but somehow managed to keep Ireland away from drawing level for the third time.
Ireland cut the India lead twice with Conor Harte, who made it 1-1 in the 27th minute, and then again in the 50th with Eugene Magee, who locked it at 2-2 to make the upset look a possibility.
It took a while for the two teams to get into competitive mode after their one-sided victories in the first two matches against the minnows. But once they hit the straps, some delightful hockey was on display.
India got two penalty corners (PC) under five minutes from the start of play, but vice captain Raghunath couldn't pierce the Irish defence. Ireland too came to open the scoring when a deflection by David Carson sailed over the Indian post. A soft unforced error by Ireland in the 16th minute gave India another opening and this time Rupinder stepped up to convert the PC.
Mandeep Singh got the opportunity to score India's second goal when a defensive lapse gave him a loose ball but he failed to use the opportunity and was easily dispossessed.
But Ireland were very much in the game now and threatened to equalise any moment. Eleven minutes after India got ahead, the Irish pressure resulted in three back-to-back PCs for them, and after wasting the first two, Conor Harte slammed the equaliser home in the 27th minute.
The second half saw more urgency on the field by both teams, but it was India who surged into the lead. Raghunath made up for his initial misses when he converted India's sixth penalty corner in the 39th minute. Rupinder could have increased the margin two minutes later when he was fed excellently by Sardar but failed to find the mark with his reverse.
In the 50th minute, Ireland once again drew level - this time through Eugene Magee - who beat PR Sreejesh in the post with a neat strike from almost the top of the Indian striking circle.
But the goal of the match came in the 56th minute when Mandeep collected a long ball inside the Irish 25-yard line and ran into the D, but instead of taking the hit himself he chose to turn around, almost blindfolding two Irish defenders before passing the ball to unmarked Dharamvir who just had the goalkeeper to beat and made no mistake.
The last 14 minutes saw Ireland up the ante, especially in the final three minutes when they earned three back-to-back penalty corners. However, the golden opportunity went a begging to give India an important win.
India's unbeaten run takes them clear on top of the table with nine points from three games, with Ireland's six from as many encounters placing them second.
The winner of the round-robin league is assured of a place in the Round 3, which doubles up as the 2014 World Cup qualifier.