Azlan Shah Cup 2019: Final - India vs Korea preview, prediction, telecast, date, start time and where to watch online
The battle lines have been drawn, as the two best teams in the competition are all set to lock horns for the second time in less than a week.
While the Indians were always expected to make it to the big final by virtue of being the highest-ranked side, the Koreans who have been struggling, of late, have surprised many by their performance at Ipoh.
South Korea first made it to the Hockey World Cup in 1994, and qualified for every single edition of the big event right until 2014 - but were not in action at Bhubaneswar last year.
After settling for bronze at the 2014 Asian Games at home, the South Koreans failed to make it to the podium at the 2016 edition of the Asian Champions Trophy and the Dhaka Asia Cup a year later.
In spite of not finishing amongst the medals, the Koreans continued to be extremely competitive until the end of 2017, forcing India, Pakistan, and Malaysia to split points with an identical scoreline of 1-1 in the Super 4s stage at Dhaka - but seemed to fall apart last year, finishing a dismal fifth, at both the Asian Games and the Asian Champions Trophy.
How then, did the same team suddenly transform themselves into a truly world-class unit, getting past more fancied sides like Canada and Malaysia in the pool phase of the Azlan Shah Cup - and manage to contain the Indian strikers to finally stun them with a last-minute equalizer?
Sportskeeda checked with master coach Siegfried Aikman who is at Ipoh guiding the Japanese boys - and the incisive Dutchman shed some light on the reasons behind South Korea's ascendancy.
"Korea brought a different set of players from the team which played at the Asian Games and the Asian Champions Trophy - they were not fit then, but at the moment, they are. They are very good - the only question is how they manage to recover from a lot of hard work."
India's most memorable win against the South Koreans was in the final of the 1998 Asian Games, where goalkeeper Ashish Ballal's heroics, in the shootout, earned his team a gold medal.
The Arjuna Awardee does know a thing or two about how the Koreans traditionally set themselves up for the big games and told Sportskeeda that the Indians will need to be patient on Saturday.
"Patience and ball possession in key areas are important. Korea can only win by PC conversions, so we need to keep maximum ball possession. India should win convincingly as they are the strongest team in the tournament."
Manpreet Singh and his team will have to get over their medal-match jitters which have led to their downfall on innumerable occasions in the past - while the Koreans will be keen to demonstrate to the hockey world that they on par with the best in the business.
How do the stats stack up between the two sides?
Total Matches: 81 (India 32, Korea 31, Draws 18)
Head-to-head (Azlan Shah Cup):
Total Matches - 16 (India 5, Korea 8, Draws 3)
Azlan Shah Cup Titles:
India: (1985, 1991, 1995, and 2009)
South Korea: (1996)
Both India and South Korea were declared joint winners in 2010 as the final was abandoned due to bad weather.
Sportskeeda would like to thank eminent hockey statistician BG Joshi for confirming the above statistics.
Players to watch out for:
India: (Mandeep Singh, Amit Rohidas, Varun Kumar)
South Korea: (Lee Nam Yong, Jang Jong-Hyun, Jung Man-Jae)
Here is how you can catch all the action
Event: Sultan Azlan Shah Cup 2019
Venue: Ipoh, Malaysia
Date: 30 March 2019
Time: 6:05 pm Indian Standard Time (IST)
Telecast: No telecast in India
Live Streaming: Details awaited
Live Updates: Sportskeeda
The stakes will be high for both India and Korea, and both teams will be expected to adopt a cautious approach. Amit Rohidas will have a huge role to play - both, as a first-runner to stop the PCs, and as a drag-flick specialist to convert a few - as, indeed, will Varun Kumar.
The Indians will be keen to avoid a shootout going by past experience - but the possibility of one cannot be ruled out given that the strong Korean defence will be tough to breach.
A razor-sharp contest is on the cards where the slightest error from one side could tilt the result in the opponent's favor.
Score Prediction: India 2 - 1 South Korea