GUANGZHOU: Pakistan goalkeeper Salman Akbar saved the last shot of a penalty shoot-out against South Korea to steer his team into the Asian Games men’s hockey final on Tuesday.
Both teams were locked 1-1 in 70 minutes of regulation time and failed to break the impasse after 15 minutes of extra-time in an absorbing semi-final at the Aoti Hockey Centre.
Waqas Muhammad put Pakistan ahead in the 22nd minute, before Kang Moon-Kyu drew level four minutes into the second session.
When the first five penalty shots produced a 3-3 deadlock, the sudden death rule was applied, which produced even more drama.
Sohail Abbas and Jang Jong-hyun saw their shots saved, but Haseem Khan scored off the next to put Pakistan 4-3 ahead.
Jang Jong-ho stepped in for the next shot amid mounting tension and his feeble push was easily saved by Akbar to carry Pakistan into their first Asiad final since 1990.
“I have never played such a nerve-wrecking game in my life,” said Akbar, a veteran of 300 internationals.
“When the penalties began, my only thought was of my parents back home and I think it is their prayers which helped me and Pakistan win.
“This win will certainly boost our morale for the final.”
Pakistan await the winner of Tuesday’s second semi-final between India and Malaysia in Thursday’s gold medal match.
Pakistan, who won the last of their seven Asian Games gold medals in Beijing in 1990, have not bagged a major title since the World Cup triumph in Sydney in 1994.
Zeeshan Ashraf’s men are desperate to make amends in Guangzhou after finishing an embarrassing last at the World Cup and lowly sixth at the Commonwealth Games this year.
The Koreans had the only penalty corner in the first half, which was wasted, and a swift Pakistani counter-attack saw Waqas pounce on a pass from the left and sound the boards from the top of the circle.
Veteran Abbas, the world’s leading scorer with 312 goals, missed three successive penalty corners early in the second half.
Pakistan were reduced to 10 men when Muhammad Imran was sent off with a yellow card, and the Koreans seized the advantage when Kang pushed the ball in past Akbar to make it 1-1.
South Korea had a chance to seal victory when they earned a penalty corner in extra-time, but Jang’s stinging shot was saved by defender Muhammad Rashid.
The Koreans, whose hopes of bagging a hat-trick of titles ended, will return on Thursday to fight for the bronze medal.