MELBOURNE (AFP) – North Korea scored their first Asian Cup goal in 23 years on Wednesday but Saudi Arabia dashed hopes of an upset by storming back for a 4-1 win.
A second defeat in Group B left the North Koreans on the brink of elimination while breathing new life into a Saudi campaign that had been flagging after they were stunned 1-0 by China in their opening game at the weekend.
North Korea picked up a yellow card after just 15 seconds when Jong Il-Gwan, being tracked by Newcastle United, was booked for a wild lunge.
They continued to tear into the Saudis as they went in search of a first Asian Cup victory since 1980 and the dream looked on after 11 minutes as Japan-based Ryang Yong-Gi slammed home after big striker Pak Kwang-Ryong’s fierce drive had been parried by goalkeeper Waleed Abdullah.
But Naif Hazazi equalised with a clinical finish against the run of play eight minutes before the interval. The Saudi forward’s joy was unbridled, having fluffed a penalty in their shock 1-0 loss China last Saturday.
Strike partner Mohammed Al Sahlawi poked the Gulf side in front seven minutes after the break, before profiting from some horror defending to roll in a third moments later as North Korea began to unravel.
Saudi Arabia, who won the last of their three Asian Cup titles in 1996, continued to press, Al Sahlawi squandering a golden opportunity to complete his hat-trick by dragging horribly wide when clean through on goal.
Nawaf Alabid added a fourth after reacting sharply to having his penalty saved by North Korean goalkeeper Ri Myong-Guk.
Pyongyang frequently lavishes cars and apartments on athletes who bring glory to the state, but the North Korean players at least had the consolation of being cheered to the rafters by a crowd of 12,000 in Melbourne for a plucky display.