INCHEON

Arch-rivals India and Pakistan face off in a mouth-watering field hockey final at the Asian Games on Thursday with a place in the 2016 Olympics at stake. Millions of fans in both nations will be glued to their television screens for the title clash which earns the winner a ticket to Rio de Janeiro and the loser left facing a hazardous qualification route.

India and Pakistan last met in an Asiad final way back at New Delhi in 1982 where the Indians suffered a stunning 1-7 rout in front of their home fans that included then prime minister Indira Gandhi. In Beijing in 1990 when Pakistan claimed the gold and India the silver, there was no final since the winner was decided after a round-robin league.

Eight-time Olympic champions India have won the Asiad title just twice, both in the Thai capital of Bangkok in 1966 and 1998. In contrast, defending champions Pakistan are the most successful team in the continental games with eight golds, highlighted by four successive wins over India in a final from 1970 to 1982.

Pakistan, coached by former international Shahnaz Sheikh, start as favourites following their 2-1 win over India in the preliminary league. But Sheikh was worried by the failure of his strikers to score against Malaysia in Tuesday's semi-final which ended in a 0-0 draw before Pakistan edged ahead 6-5 in the tie-breaker.

"We played better than them but just could not score," said Sheikh, a former striker hismelf. "We don't want to make the same mistake again. Fans love an India-Pakistan game. I am sure the final will be exciting."

A lot will be depending on Pakistan forwards like M Umar Bhutta, who has scored five goals so far, Shakeel Abbasi, M Waqas, Rizwan Junior, Haseem Khan, M Dilber, Shafqat Rasool to show magic to bring honour and glory to the country. Pakistan supporters will also focus their eyes on M Imran (six goals) and M Irfan (5 goals) to show top performance on converting short corners. The heartening factor in Pakistan camp is outstanding performance under the bar by Imran Butt. His heroics took Pakistan in the final and he could again be trump card with forward line.

Rupinderpaul Singh, who will be playing his 100th international in the  final is Indian team's top-scorer with five goals to his credit while penalty corner specialist Raghunath Ramachandaran slammed in four goals with Nikkin Alyanna are key figures in the Indian team.

Pakistan manager cum coach Sameer Hussain has said team was concerned about finishing inside the circle ahead of final. "Pakistan scored 26 goals during the event. But our team alteast missed a dozen golden opportunities. We are working on it and hope that forwards will come up with a high performance against India in the final," he told APP. "The final is a big game for both teams. However our team enjoys a psychological advantage having beaten India in the league rounds," 2000 Sydney Olympian said. "We are working on planning, strategy and tactics to down Indian in this gold medal tie," he said.

He however admitted that past is history and players have come up with a new vigour to retain their title to get direct entry into 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics. "It was really tough semifinal against Malaysia. But thanks to Imran Butt's heroics we made it to the final," he said.

India upset hosts South Korea 1-0 in the semi-final through Akashdeep Singh's 44th minute winner, but face a tougher test against Pakistan's goalkeeper Imran Butt, the star of the shoot-out win against Malaysia. The Indians, coached by Australian Terry Walsh, will also bank on reliable goalie P. R. Sreejesh to block the Pakistani forwards as star midfielder and captain Sardar Singh attempts to control the game upfront.

"The final is a very important game for our young side," said Walsh. "There was a lot of energy shown against the Koreans but we must seize the chances that come our way." South Korea and Malaysia will contest the bronze medal play-off ahead of the final.