India came up with an inspiring performance to beat Malaysia 2-0 and enter the final of the ninth Asia Cup hockey tournament in Ipoh, Malaysia, on Friday.
Earlier, defending champions South Korea beat Pakistan 2-1 in a hard-fought first semi-final.
South Korea's goals came from penalty-corner conversions from Jang Jong Hyun, in the 31st minute, and Lee Nam Yong, in the 40th, while Pakistan's lone goal was scored by skipper Muhammad Imran in the 46th minute.
With the Koreans having already qualified for the World Cup, and Pakistan losing in the semis, both India and Malaysia are virtually through to next year's showpiece 12-team event at The Hague, Netherlands, as the first and second reserves, though official confirmation will come only after the conclusion of the Oceania Cup, in November, which either Australia or New Zealand, who have both qualified, is expected to win.
It will also be the first time that Pakistan will not feature in the World Cup since it started in Barcelona in 1971.
With knowledge of a World Cup berth virtually assured, the Indians started the semi-final on a confident note and stunned the packed home crowd at the Azlan Shah stadium with an early goal.
V R Raghunath swelled his goal tally to seven when he converted India's first penalty-corner in the eighth minute.
However, it was the home team that enjoyed the early share of exchanges and had couple of scoring chances. While on the first occasion Faizal Saari missed from close range, an unmarked Mohd Noor shot wide a minute later with only Indian custodian P R Sreejesh to beat.
The Malaysians created lot of scoring opportunities right through the match but the Indian defence, led goalkeeper Sreejesh, held firm.
India could have doubled the lead four minutes from half-time, but Malaysia’s goalkeeper, Kumar Subramaniam, brought off a fine save to deny Rupinderpal Singh from the team’s second penalty-corner.
The Malaysians continued to missed chances despite creating numerous scoring opportunities after the change of ends.
They earned back-to-back penalty-corners ten minutes into the second half but a brilliant Sreejesh denied them with a fine saves.
To the agony of the partisan home crowd, Izwan Firdaus Ahmad Tajuddin missed an open chance in the 58th minute.
The Indians were quick to rub salt into Malaysia's wounds as they doubled the lead in the 60th minute through Mandeep Singh, who scored his fifth goal of the tournament, after a fine one-two with Ramandeep Singh.
The Malaysians pressed hard in the last few minutes but were thwarted by a crowded Indian defence.
India will play South Korea in the summit clash on Sunday. India had earlier defeated the Koreans 2-0 in the pool stage.
Earlier, Japan defeated Bangladesh 3-0, while Oman eked out a narrow win over Chinese Taipei, via penalty the shoot-out, in the classification matches for fifth to eight places.
In the first classification match of the day, Japan proved to be too good for the Bangladeshis.
Japan scored two goals in the first half through Toshiro Tachibana (9th minute) and captain Koji Kayukawa (26th).
Meanwhile, in the second classification match of the day between two debutants, Chines Taipei overcame a two goal deficit to hold Oman 2-2 after the regulation 70 minutes.
Oman took the lead through an own goal in the 24th minute. They doubled their lead in the 31st minute through a field goal from Samir Haliyas Juma'an Al Shibli.
The Taiwanese side made spirited comeback in the last 15 minutes of the match and scored through Liu Ching Kun (57th) and Tseng Hsien-Yi (67th) to take the match into penalty shootout.
Image: V R Raghunath