Saudi Arabia made a comfortable start at the 2019 Asian Cup as they shared out the goals in a 4-0 defeat of 10-man North Korea.
The lively Hattan Bahebri expertly curled in a 28th-minute opener against solid opponents at Rashid Stadium, stacked deep in a 5-4-1 formation. Perugia loanee Han Kwang-song then came to the fore, missing a sitter before the excellent Mohammed Al Fatil flicked in the second. Han was then sent off for a second yellow card in eight, wild, minutes.
In the second half, Salem Al Dawsari showcased his talents to skip inside and deftly find the bottom corner before Fahad Al Muwallad made up for several misses with a late lashed finish.
Here is the report card from this Group E clash:
SAUDI ARABIA (4-1-4-1)
Mohammed Al Owais – 6: Watching brief for the Al Ahli Jeddah shot stopper. Was thankful to see Han’s free header go over, mind.
Mohammed Al Breik – 6: Kept it simple and, largely, left the adventurous stuff to roaming Al Hilal team-mate Al Shahrani.
Mohammed Al Fatil – 7: Produced a back-heeled volley that Saudi legend Sami Al Jaber would have been proud of.
Ali Al Bulaihi – 6: Precious little defending to do as Korea sat back, then went down to 10 men. Easy night’s work.
Yasser Al Shahrani – 7: Arguably Asia’s finest full-back eased his way into the competition. Supported Al Dawsari superbly.
Abdullah Otayf – 7: With Al Faraj injured, this was a big test for the accurate anchor man. Sterner ones, however, are to come.
Hattan Bahebri – 7: What a way to get your first international goal. Delightful curled shot broke deadlock. Lively presence.
Abdulaziz Al Bishi – 7: The Al Faisaly midfielder looks so comfortable at this level. Had a strong hand in opener.
Housain Al Mogahwi – 6: Floated in free-kick that Al Fatil impudently converted. Recycled ball exceedingly well against 10 men.
Salem Al Dawsari – 7: Quiet first half for Hilal flyer was forgotten when his dancing feet earned space and he curled home third. A fine player.
Fahad Al Muwallad – 6: Makeshift centre forward fluffed big chances in both halves, before belatedly smashing in from close range.
Abdulrahman Ghareeb – 6: Didn’t have a great deal to do in his 20 minutes on the pitch.
Mohammed Al Saiari – N/A: Squad’s only recognised No9 didn’t get any chances.
Hamdan Al Shamrani – N/A: Given a few minutes at the death.
NORTH KOREA (5-4-1)
Ri Myong-guk – 7: The World Cup 2010 veteran and Chollima skipper produced string of fine saves. Highlight came versus Al Muwallad.
Ri Il-jin – 5: The right wing-back was given a real test by the Al Mogahwi/Al Dawsari partnership on his flank.
Kim Song-gi – 6: The tall Japan-based centre-back held nothing back. Tried his best to hold the fort against Saudis.
Jang Kuk-chol – 6: Another one to do well in the face of adversity. Helped by sheer weight of men around him.
An Song-il – 5: Tried to keep Al Muwallad quiet. When ball was in the air, did well. Taken off at half-time.
Kim Chol-bom – 5: Saudis were forced to find space out wide. This left Kim exposed, at times. Tried to race forward.
Han Kwang-song – 2: In nine-minute spell, Perugia loanee missed a sitter, Saudis made it 2-0 and was dismissed.
Ri Yong-jik – 5: The Tokyo Verdy defensive midfielder was comprehensively overshadowed by Otayf. Looked lost, at times.
Ri Un-chol – 5: Didn’t provide enough of an attacking threat, or ample cover to his side when they became stretched at 10 men.
Jong Il-gwan – 6: The FC Luzern winger showed a few deft touches in the first half. Team-mates couldn’t make most of them.
Pak Kwang-ryong – 5: A difficult night for the St Polten centre forward. Ran down several blind alleys and always well marked.
Kim Kyong-Hun – 6: Tried, in vain, to keep his side in the contest when brought on at interval.
Ri Chang-Ho – 6: Couldn’t inject life into a listless, numerically disadvantaged side.
Rim Kwang-hyok – N/A: Only given injury time.
This time last year Oman were basking in the glory of a Gulf Cup triumph – and their Dutch tactician Pim Verbeek insists his side have every reason to feel good about themselves once again.
The rest of the year was rather productive as well, going the entirety unbeaten in friendly match-ups with strong teams such as Ecuador and Syria before coming undone against the Aussies.
That 5-0 defeat, their last match before the tournament’s kick-off, will have stuck in the side’s craw but Verbeek is adamant there will be no repeat should they come up against the Asian Cup holders here.
“We had a good run in our build-up ahead of this tournament, we won plenty of friendlies but when you face a team like Australia, they are a completely different team than what we are accustomed to,” said Verbeek, who also coached the Socceroos between 2007-10.
“We were not used to them and we made individual mistakes in that match. It was a hard evening for the boys but at the end of the day, we can learn from our mistakes and improve.”
There could be a trick up the sleeve of Verbeek’s opposite number, Hector Cuper, the former Valencia and Inter Milan boss who coached Egypt at last year’s World Cup.
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The Argentine is now employed by Uzbekistan, who narrowly missed out on qualification to the 2018 showpiece.
The Asian Cup may have come slightly too early – their youth team won the AFC Under-23 Championship last year – but Cuper is hoping his side’s unconventional build-up will pay off straight away in Sharjah.
“Our team had good preparation leading up to the tournament, especially our centralised camps which included high-intensity trainings. We didn’t only focus on Oman but also the tournament as a whole and I’m satisfied with how everything went,” said Cuper, whose side will also face Japan and Turkmenistan in Group F.
“I’m not worried that we didn’t not play any friendlies before the tournament. I made that decision for a valid reason. Sometimes players can pick up unnecessary injuries, so I didn’t want to expose my players to that kind of risk.”
Lebanon coach Miodrag Radulovic insists his team of dreamers are not at the Asian Cup to just make up the numbers.
Prior to this year’s breakthrough, Lebanon had been the only Asian country alongside Yemen to have never successfully completed a qualification stage for the tournament, having been hosts in 2000.
Since Radulovic’s appointment in 2015, however, Lebanese football has enjoyed something of a rebirth, having gone 15 matches unbeaten until defeat to Jordan last September.
And the Montenegrin is confident his players will not freeze on the big stage at the conclusion of a wonderful four-year journey.
“Everybody in Lebanese football is dreaming about this competition for 20 years and we’re proud that we’re in this company,” he said. “We’re living the dreams of the players and the football fans of Lebanon.
“Our focus is on the first game, it’s a very important game, not decisive, but important. I know very well what to expect from such a level but I’m sure my players will have the possibility and the quality to make a performance.
“We are together almost four years and we built a good team. We have our system and we have tactical discipline and I’m optimistic about the game.”
Lebanon take on Qatar in a tricky group that is also home to Saudi Arabia and North Korea, but Radulovic is confident he has got his squad right.
“After the amazing qualifying that we did over this period we have tried to extend our group and we have found some players to improve our performance,” he added.
“I believe in my players, my captain Hassan Matouk, my strikers. We’ve come here with a strong mission to make one step forward on the football map of Asia.”