Rotterdam, Netherlands: An error-prone India need nothing short of a miracle to secure a direct berth in next year's hockey World Cup as they take on formidable Australia in the quarterfinals of the men's competition of the FIH World League Round 3, here on Wednesday.
Six top teams -- three each -- will qualify directly for the 2014 World Cup to be held in Hague, The Netherlands from the two editions of FIH World League Round 3 -- the ongoing event in Rotterdam and then the next one to be held in Malaysia from June 29 to July 7.
But for India it is now looking extremely difficult to be among one of those six teams as in the last eight round world ranked second Australia await them, a side against whom the Indians hold a poor record in the recent past.
India, however, could take heart from the fact that they put up a much-improved performance to eke out a fighting 3-3 draw against higher-ranked New Zealand in their last match to finish third in Pool B with two points.
After two pretty ordinary outings against lower-ranked Ireland (4-4) and hosts Netherlands (0-2), the Indians displayed an attacking brand of hockey against the Black Sticks from the starting hooter last night.
Considered a perennial problem, the defence continued to hurt India in the tournament.
The Sardar Singh-led India, who dominated the match throughout, however paid the price for poor defending and conceded a goal four minutes from time against New Zealand to return winless from the group stage.
Against New Zealand, the 11th ranked Indians had far more possession, more penetration at the opposition striking circle and more shots at target in the fast-paced match.
But come tomorrow the Indian strikers will need to put up a much-better performance and cannot afford to let go scoring opportunities against the well-built Australians.
The Indians need to work on co-ordination between the mid-field and the forwardline as they were guilty of giving away the ball far more easily to their opponents.
India's chief coach Michael Nobbs, an Australian citizen, too knows it very well that a slight lapse in concentration from his wards can spoil their chances as the Kookaburras can run away with the game in no time.
Australia, on the other hand, did not have the desired results in the group stage as they finished second behind ninth-ranked Belgium, who stunned the Kookaburras 1-3 in their tournament opener.
After a disappointing start to the tournament, Australia got their act together and soon drubbed Spain (5-2) and France (7-1) in their next pool engagements.
Tomorrow's duel is significance for both India and Australia as it will be the 100th international game between the two countries.
For former Australia captain and star striker Jamie Dwyer, who scored five goals including a hat-trick against France, tomorrow's game against India will be his 300th international appearance and he would be hoping for a positive result from the match.
In other men's quarterfinals, Belgium will face Ireland, New Zealand will play Spain while hosts Netherlands will be up against France.