India are currently on top with 21 points from 10 games, four clear of second-placed Germany, who have garnered 17 points from eight matches.
But going into the first of the double-leg tie at the Kalinga Stadium here, the Indians would clearly start as favourites in sultry conditions against a German team that comprises of 12 rookies in its roster.
With a half a dozen out of its 22-member squad making their senior debuts during the two matches on April 14 and 15, the visitors during these matches have decided to test youngsters ahead of next year’s World Cup and 2024 Paris Olympics.
The other reason behind Germany’s decision to field a young side is the unavailability of some of their regular player, who are busy with with club matches back home.
And it augurs well for the Indians, who are coming into the tie with a bit of confidence, having defeated Netherlands 2-1 and then losing 1-3 against the same opponents in the shoot-out during the return leg at home.
These two matches are in fact India’s last home games in the Pro League before they hit the road for away games..
And the Amit Rohidas-led side would definitely look to sign off their home campaign with an all-win record against a less-formidable German side.
India vice-captain and star drag-flicker Harmanpreet Singh, however, cautioned his teammates against taking the Germans lightly.
“The thing with youngsters is that they will work hard to prove themselves,” said Harmanpreet at the pre-match press conference.
“Our focus is to make sure we improve as a team and not worry about who is coming.
“When it’s experienced opponents, we know what they do, what their strengths are, but we still can’t take players we have never faced or seen before lightly. But anyway, we generally know how Germany fares and their style of play.”
Germany head coach Andre Henning admitted that coping with the weather would be their biggest task in the upcoming matches as they are coming from sub-zero temperature compared to the extreme humid conditions of Bhubaneswar.
“Our main focus here is learning and developing. This is probably the youngest German (national) team there has ever been. It’s more of a future-based team here, as we’re looking to create a squad keeping the 2028 Olympics in mind. But honestly, I don’t know what level we are at,” he said.
Henning, however, said he won’t be surprised if his players exceed the team’s expectations in the upcoming two games.
“When we asked the players (about playing the tie), everyone was excited, thankful and grateful. We don’t know yet if it’s going to work,” he said.
“It can surprise us. We’re not sure how we’re going to play. We have to get as much and as close as possible. That’s the challenge. But I’m happy.”
The second game of the tie between the two sides will be played on Friday.