Improved Saudis impress coach with North Korea rout

Saudi Arabia players celebrating one of their four goals. They got their Asian Cup campaign rolling with a 4-0 win over North Korea.
Saudi Arabia players celebrating one of their four goals. They got their Asian Cup campaign rolling with a 4-0 win over North Korea.PHOTO: EPA-EFE

DUBAI • Saudi Arabia coach Juan Antonio Pizzi has praised his players for their commitment to learn and improve, following the 4-0 Asian Cup Group E thrashing of North Korea on Tuesday.

The Saudis, humbled at last year's World Cup in Russia, looked far more at home in neighbouring United Arab Emirates as they tore 10-man North Korea apart.

It was a performance that tagged Saudi Arabia as one of the teams to beat at the continental showpiece along with Iran, who thrashed Yemen 5-0 on Monday.

"I'm very happy personally because normally the first game of a tournament, there are nervous moments," Pizzi told Abu Dhabi's The National newspaper.

"But I'm so happy and, hopefully, we will continue at the same level.

"There's no doubt that the time you spend with a certain team allows you to get confidence, in yourself and your players as well.

"But we notice from all the period we spent with the Saudi national team that our players are willing to learn and are ready to do exactly what we ask as a technical staff from them.

"And they are doing it with very high commitment - even the new, younger players.

"After the loss we suffered in the first game of the 2018 World Cup, the team understood perfectly that they have to do everything, do their maximum, be organised and obey the orders we ask of them to be a better team."

The Green Falcons attacked relentlessly in the opening stages and Hatan Bahbri put them in front in the 28th minute, turning defender Ri Il Jin inside out and firing into the far corner.

They were 2-0 up nine minutes later when Hussain Almoqahwi's free kick glanced off the outstretched boot of Mohammed Al-Fatil and past Ri Myong Guk in the North Korean goal.

North Korea already had a mountain to climb, but their plight worsened just before half-time when Han Kwang Song received his second yellow card for bringing down midfielder Almoqahwi.

Salem Al-Dawsari made it 3-0 with a smart finish on 69 minutes before Fahad Al-Muwallad bagged a soft fourth goal against an exhausted Korean defence three minutes from time.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 10, 2019, with the headline 'Improved Saudis impress coach with North Korea rout'. Print Edition | Subscribe