A brilliant field goal by Akashdeep Singh gave India a 1-0 victory over South Korea and a place in the men’s hockey final at the Asian Games, in Incheon, on Tuesday.
The Indians, who last made it to the Asiad final way back in 2002 at Busan, will meet Pakistan, who beat 2010 Guangzhou Games silver medallists Malaysia 6-5 via the penalty shoot-out after the teams were locked goalless at the end of 60 minutes normal time, in Thursday's final.
The Sardar Singh-led Indian side is hoping to end a 16-year gold medal drought at the Games. The last time India won gold at the Asiad was in 1998, at the Bangkok Games, under Dhanraj Pillay's captaincy.
A top finish this time will earn the team a direct entry to the 2016 Rio Olympics.
The Indians were by far the dominant side for the entire 60 minutes while the Koreans played catch-up hockey, unable to get past a resolute rival defence.
India had the first shave at the Korean goal in the fifth minute following a counter-attack, but Dharamvir Singh missed a sitter, overrunning a pass from S V Sunil with only goalkeeper Myungho Lee to beat.
Three minutes into the second quarter, India earned two back-to-back penalty-corners but the Korean custodian brought off fantastic saves, once diving to his right to deny V R Raghunath a goal.
India maintained the pressure and mounted numerous raids on the Korean citadel only to be disappointed by the misfiring forwardline, in which Ramandeep Singh and Gurvinder Singh were a big letdown.
The Indian defence, which is known to crumble under pressure, had a fantastic outing today. The likes of Birendra Lakra, Raghunath, Manpreet Singh and Rupinderpal Singh were rock solid and denied the Koreans space to splinter through.
India's persistent efforts finally bore fruit in the 44th minute when Akashdeep slammed home a first-timed strike from a virtually impossible angle to the relief of the Indian camp.
A goal down, the Koreans mounted repeated attacks on the Indian goal in the last quarter of the match but failed to break the stubborn Indian defense.
Indian supporters had their hearts in their mouth when Korea earned their only penalty-corner of the match just two minutes from the final hooter, but the Indian defense was up to the task.