Hangzhou: India defeated South Korea 5-3 in a hard-fought semifinal to enter the title clash of the men's hockey competition at the Asian Games here on Wednesday.
The Indians, who had an easy run in the pool stages recording big wins, were made to toil by the Koreans despite taking a 3-0 lead in the first quarter.
India, who won a bronze in the last edition, will be eyeing a repeat of the 2014 Incheon Asian Games, where they won the yellow metal.
A gold in the Asian Games is of huge significance for the Tokyo Olympics bronze medallists as it will ensure their direct entry into the 2024 Paris Games.
Hardik Singh (5th minute), Mandeep Singh (11th), Lalit Kumar Upadhyay (15th), Amit Rohidas (24th) and Abhishek (54th) were the goal-getters for India, while Manjae Jung (17th, 20th, 42nd) scored a hat-trick for Korea but it went in vain.
The Indians started from where they had left in the pool stages and came out attacking from the onset.
It was all about Indian attack and Korea's defence in the opening quarter as the Harmanpreet-led side mounted continuous raids on the opposition defence.
It took just five minutes for India to take the lead through Hardik, who scored from a rebound after Lalit's initial try was saved by Korean goalkeeper Jaehyeon Kim.
Three minutes later, an unmarked Mandeep got plenty of space inside the circle but his slap shot, with only the goalkeeper to beat, went over the post.
The first quarter saw fast-paced continuous attacks from the Indians and their tactics bore fruit again in the 11th minute when Mandeep deflected in his 10th goal here from a Gurjant pass.
India secured their first penalty corner in the 13th minute but Harmanpreet's flick went wide.
Just at the stroke of the first quarter, Lalit was at the right place to push in a rebound after Harmanpreet's reverse hit was saved by the Korean goalkeeper to hand India a 3-0 lead.
The Koreans looked more purposeful in the second quarter and got their act together to put pressure on the Indians with two quick goals.
India looked a bit out of sorts at the start of the second quarter, and the Koreans took full advantage of that and started to put pressure on the 2014 Asian Games champions' defence.
The pressure resulted in Korea's first penalty corner two minutes into the second quarter and Jung scored as they executed a neatly worked out variation.
Three minutes later, Korea reduced the margin to 2-3 when Jung deflected in Taeil Hwang's pass.
Stunned by Korea's fightback, the Indians got their composure back and went back to their tried and tested possession hockey, which yielded results when Rohidas stepped up in Harmanpreet's absence to flick in a penalty corner.
The goal seemed to have reignited Harmanpreet's side as minutes later they earned their third penalty corner but the variation effort was not up to the mark as the scoreline stood 4-2 in India's favour.
Known for their fighting spirit, the Koreans looked in no mood to give up and put relentless pressure on the Indian goal after the change of ends.
Two minutes after half-time, Korea got a golden chance but Lee Nam Yong flicked the ball wide after five Korean strikers invaded the Indian 'D'.
Korea's pressure jolted the Indians as they conceded another penalty corner and another variation was perfectly deflected in by Jung to register his hat-trick and reduce the scoreline.
Trailing by just one goal, the Koreans played high-press hockey in the fourth and final quarter but the Indians defended in numbers to keep their opponents at bay.
Abhishek gave India some breathing space six minutes from the final hooter.
The young striker slammed the ball into the goal with a fierce reverse hit from top of the circle after receiving a pass from Mandeep to score his eighth goal of the tournament.
With four minutes left on the clock, Korea withdrew their goalkeeper for an extra field player in search of goals but the Indian defence stood tall.
India will take on Japan in the gold medal match on Saturday.