Muscat: DPR Korea got their AFC U-22 Championship campaign off to a winning start with a comfortable 3-1 victory over Yemen at Seeb Stadium on Saturday.
Goals from forwards Pak Kwang-ryong and Jo Kwang, who nabbed a brace, were enough to secure all three points in the opening fixture of Group B despite a spectacular strike from Yemen striker Sadam Hussein that briefly threatened to turn the tide.
DPR Korea next face Syria on Monday afternoon, while Yemen will seek to reverse their fortunes against United Arab Emirates in the evening fixture.
“This was not an easy game for us and our opponent was stronger than we expected. We had some technical and mental problems. But it’s the first game and more stressful. Next match we can let the players calm down, so as not to miss any chances,” said DPR Korea coach Yun Jong-su.
DPR Korea took an early lead in the third minute as frontman Pak’s blocked shot rebounded only as far as strike partner Jo who stabbed in from close range.
The Koreans began to turn the screws as Pak went close again, sliding the ball wide with Yemen custodian Esam Al Hakimi well beaten.
However, against the run of play, it was Yemen who next found the net as a smart piece of individual skill from striker Hussein culminated with a rocket of a shot from the left of the penalty area that flew over goalkeeper An Tae-song and off the bar for an unexpected equaliser after 21 minutes.
With the game’s momentum threatening to swing Yemen’s way, DPR Korea then saw Pak leave the field after a clash of heads required an extended period off the field for treatment.
But after leaving his team down to 10 men for over five minutes, the bandaged DPR Korea number nine returned to the field just after the half-hour mark and in his next meaningful action put his side back in front.
Picking up the ball on the left of the penalty area, the FC Basel striker cut inside, held off two defenders, and stroked the ball into the bottom corner past the diving Al Hakimi’s left hand with five minutes of the first period remaining.
A tactical change during the break by DPR Korea saw Pak move out to the left flank with Kim Ju-song pushing forward from midfield to join Jo in the middle.
And 10 minutes after the restart the move paid dividends as the Koreans increased their lead through Jo.
A marauding overlap from left back Pak Myong-song culminated in a swift combination with Pak before the latter slid a ball in for Jo who flashed a left-footed shot past a stationary Al Hakimi.
Kim Ju-song had two chances in as many minutes after the hour mark but was denied on both occasions by a combination of Al Hakimi and desperate Yemen defending.
DPR Korea looked the more likely to add to their total as the match drew to its conclusion, but a lack of composure in front of goal meant the scoreline remained the same as the final whistle blew.
“DPR Korea played well and deserved to win,” said Yemen coach Abraham Mebratu.
“Physically we were okay, but my players lack international experience; and that showed.”