DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — This time, Saudi Arabia was on the right side of a rout in their opening game at a major tournament.
The Saudis beat North Korea 4-0 on Tuesday night in the Asian Cup with two well-executed goals in each half, dominating the game even before midfielder Han Kwang-song was sent off in the 44th minute.
At the 2018 World Cup, coach Juan Antonio Pizzi’s team lost 5-0 to host Russia in the showpiece first game featuring the two lowest-ranked nations.
Expectations are higher now for the 69th-ranked Saudis — fifth best in the 24-team Asian Cup — who are favoured to top a politically charged group that includes Qatar.
Defender Ali Adnan, who plays in Italy for Atalanta, sealed the victory with a perfectly placed free kick. The high-quality finish stood out after four goals featuring a variety of ricochets, deflections, and defensive errors.
Saudi Arabia’s impressive strikes to overwhelm the North Korean defence began when Hatan Bahbri lashed in an angled shot in the 28th minute. A deft backheel by the leaping Mohammed Al-Fatil doubled the lead in the 37th.
Captain Salem Al Dawsari cleverly created space in the penalty area to shoot and score in the 70th, and Fahad Al Muwallad beat overmatched goalkeeper Ri Myong-guk in the 87th.
It was the first time Saudi Arabia won their opening Asian Cup game since winning the last of their three titles in 1996, when the tournament was also hosted by the United Arab Emirates.
The Saudis next play Lebanon and won’t face Qatar until the final round of group games, on January 17 in Abu Dhabi. Both could already have qualified for the knockout rounds with third-place teams in four of the six groups advancing.