An inconsistent Indian team managed to get the better of Asian Games gold medallist Japan 3-2 to set up a Asian Champions Trophy final against Pakistan in Muscat, Oman, on Saturday.

Unbeaten in the league stage, India rode on goals from Gurjant Singh (19th minute), Chinglensana Kangujam (44th) and Dilpreet Singh (55th) to defeat Japan, who found the net twice through Hirotaka Wakuri (22nd) and Hirotaka Zendana (56th).

Earlier, Pakistan had defeated Malaysia through penalty shoot out after their semifinal had ended 4-4 in regulation time.

And the question in every hockey fans mind was whether the Indians would join their arch rivals in the summit clash by repeating their dominant performance in the group stage.

India had hammered Japan 9-0 in the league and it was understandable that the Asian Games gold medallist made a cautious start to the semifinal encounter and were willing to sit back and soak in the pressure.

It looked like the Asian Games gold medallist were playing into India’s hand as their skipper Manpreet Singh earned a penalty corner in the second minute. But Harmanpreet Singh wasted the opportunity.

India continued to look for the break and had the bulk of possession through the first quarter and could have taken the lead 10 minutes into the game when Gurjant Singh received a through ball inside the striking circle. However, he failed to beat the advancing Japanese goalkeeper.

With a minute left on the clock in the first quarter, Mandeep Singh hit wide and it was clear that the Japanese were growing in confidence.

It was Gurjant who finally drew first blood for India in the 19th minute when he collected another long ball inside the circle from Harmanpreet Singh and then slotted it home low with a reverse hit.

Dilpreet Singh could have doubled India’s lead but his shot from the top of the circle was palmed away by Japanese goalkeeper Koji Yamasaki.

And Japan were handed a lifeline two minutes later when Surender Kumar’s error gave the Asian Games gold medallists a penalty corner and Hirotaka Wakuri made no mistake in deflecting the ball home from an indirect variation.

Though India continued to farm possession after the equaliser, the midfield was guilty of not creating enough goal scoring opportunites and it was clear that the Japanese game plan was working well.

Indian coach Harendra Singh wanted his team to show more purpose inside the striking circle as he felt that the team was too soft going forward.

It looked like the Indians had not learnt their lessons as they continued to lose possession after reaching the opposition circle while Japan was clearly growing in confidence and looking more dangerous on the counter.

But Jarmanpreet Singh showed the presence of mind to earn a penalty corner with just over a minute left in the third quarter and Chinglensana did well to deflect a low dragflick from Varun into the net to put India ahead 2-1.

The pattern of play hardly changed in the first nine minutes of the last quarter as India continued to raid the Japanese goal only to be thwarted by their defence. It ultimately needed an act of brilliance from Dilpreet Singh, who collected a pass from Akashdeep Singh, turned to beat two defenders and then calmly slotted the ball home past the Japanese goalkeeper.

The Asian Games winners hit back rather immediately as they built a quick attack from the right and Hirotaka Zendana converted their third penalty corner to the left of the substiute goalkeeper Krishan Pathak.

The Indians then held on to the lead to set up a mouth watering clash against arch rivals Pakistan.