A diving header by Nanjangud Manju sent India to the final of the South Asian Football Federation championship in Karachi on Wednesday.
The 38th minute goal by the Mahindra United defender saw off the challenge of the Maldives and ensured India a spot in the title match for the third time in four tournaments.
However, the team from the Indian Ocean nation had the upper hand for much of the match and even had a goal disallowed for a foul on goalkeeper Sandip Nandy.
Mehtab Hussain was sent off for a dangerous tackle and he will miss Sunday's final.
India, who were without the suspended Mehrajuddin Wadoo, did not get many attacks together as skipper Baichung Bhutia cut a lonely figure upfront.
They were lucky that the rival forwards did not show better finishing to convert the several chances they got. Nandy also saved at least two certain goal-scoring opportunities for the Maldives.
With seven minutes left for half-time, India, against the run of play, took the lead.
Attempting to clear Shanmugam Venkatesh's corner, skipper Abdul Assad Ghani only succeeded in knocking the ball across the face of the goal, where it was met by Manju's diving header. India also had two goals disallowed.
In the 70th minute when Syed Rahim Nabi's header off Ajayan's cross went into the net. But referee Mukhtal al Yarimi from Yemen ruled that the ball had gone out of play before the East Bengal forward diverted it into the goal.
Al Yarmi completed his hat-trick of disallowed goals when he ruled out substitute Abdul Hakim's tap in after Bhutia had fouled the Maldives keeper.