New Delhi: India and Ireland will go through their first real test of the FIH Hockey World League Round 2 here when the two unbeaten teams of the men's competition test their skills against each other on Thursday.
Though India have been more merciless in their display, Ireland, ranked 15th as opposed to India's 11th world rank, wear the same look since opening their campaign against Bangladesh by conceding two goals before rallying to win that game.
The Irish put their foot on the accelerator in the second game where they pumped 13 goals to none against Fiji. Alan Sothern has been central to the Irish success in both the matches, scoring hat-tricks in each game to collect six goals. While Ronan Gormley skippered the team against Oman, Eugene Magee was given that responsibility against Fiji.
A loss here for India could mean a second-place finish, with only the winners assured of progressing to Round 3.
India, on the other hand have been more assertive with their wins, not allowing the minnows any window of an opportunity to upset the favourites. They opened their campaign with a 16-0 mauling of Fiji. Though the hosts conceded their first goal of the tournament against Oman, it was still a 9-1 walk in the park for Sardar Singh's boys.
India's penalty corner conversion and field play have been equally heartening. Vice captain VR Raghunath, Rupinderpal Singh and Gurjinder Singh, who is playing his debut series, have enjoyed a pretty healthy conversion rate. Raghunath has so far scored five goals, while Rupinder has sounded the board four times on penalty corners against Fiji and Oman. Young Nithin Thimmaiah and the experienced Danish Mujataba, who got a hat-trick against Fiji, have been equally impressive in the striking circle, scoring three goals apiece so far.
But skipper Sardar Singh and coach Michael Nobbs know that Ireland will be a totally different team to who they have played so far. If India have scored 25 goals in total so far, Ireland too have beaten the defence on 18 occasions.
Difference could be the Indian defence, where Raghunath and Rupinderpal have shown continued improvement ever since the two were picked as first-choice defenders in the Champions League, where Sandeep Singh was dropped.
And both teams will know that a loss here could mean a second-place finish and agonising wait to know if they progress to the next round of the league, which also doubles up as the qualifier for the 2014 World Cup.
The winners of the league are assured of a place in Round 3, along with three highest-ranked second-placed teams from four Round 2 events.