Saudi Arabia off to flying start in AFC Asian Cup

Saudi Arabia off to flying start in AFC Asian Cup
Hussain Al Moqahw of Saudi Arabia tackles North Korea's Han Kwang Song during their AFC Asian Cup match at the Rashid stadium on Tuesday.

Dubai - Three-time champions are making their 10th appearance in the competition

By James Jose

Published: Tue 8 Jan 2019, 9:18 PM

Last updated: Tue 8 Jan 2019, 11:22 PM

Saudi Arabia began their AFC Asian Cup campaign on a winning note by swamping 10-man North Korea at the Rashid Stadium on Tuesday night.
The Asian heavyweights, champions in 1984, 1988 and 1996, when the tournament was played here in the UAE, whipped up a 4-0 win in Group E.
Midfielder Hatan Bahbri whipped the first one into the far corner of the net on 28 minutes and defender Mohammed Al Fatil then came up with a brilliant backheel. Captain Salem Al Dawsari then made it 3-0 with a curling left-footer on 70 minutes and Fahad Al Muwallad rounded it off with the fourth, three minutes from time.
Coach Juan Antonio Pizzi couldn't have asked for a better start from his lads, especially after they had failed to progress from the group in the last two editions.
Though it is still some way to go, Saudi Arabia, making their 10th appearance in the continental competition, will now be looking to resume their fine record where they were finalists in six of their first seven participations.
Apart from winning it thrice, Saudi Arabia have ended up as runners-up on three occasions as well. It also halted a poor run where they had lost six of their last seven matches in the competition.
Meanwhile, for North Korea, who lost to Saudi Arabia 4-1 in their only previous meeting in the Asian Cup in 2015, it continued a wretched run where they have now lost 10 of their last 11 fixtures in the competition.
The last time North Korea won a match in the tournament was against Syria in 1980. On that occasion, they won 2-1 and that was the only time they progressed beyond the group stages to eventually finish fourth.
Just as the crowd was streaming in, the game took a bit of time to warm up before Saudi Arabia had the first crack at goal. But Abdulaziz Al Bishi's curling left-footer just whizzed past the post.
Saudi Arabia slowly turned on the heat and had as many as four corners within the first 25 minutes. And they should have gone ahead on 24 minutes but Mohammed Al Burayk failed to get a touch despite making a valiant attempt by sliding down the pitch.
But the opener duly arrived four minutes later with Bahbri dinking past defender Ri Il-Jin before firing it into the far corner of the net.
North Korea had done admirably well until then to set up a defiant wall to deny Saudi Arabia. They had their best chance of the half and an opportunity to cancel out the lead on 35 minutes but Han Kwang Song headed it wide from close range.
Song's night was to turn from bad to worse as he was sent off for a second booking after he had hacked into Hussain Almoqahwi, with a minute left in the half.
Prior to that, Al Fatil added cushion to Saudi Arabia's lead on 37 minutes with a fine backheel following a cross from Almoqahwi.
Al Dawsari curled his left-footer in from just inside the box on 70 minutes and Muwallad wrapped it up with three minutes left on the clock.

More news from