Three-time champion Saudi Arabia began its AFC Asian Cup 2019 campaign in commanding fashion as it thumped North Korea 4-0 in its Group E clash in Dubai's Al Rashid Stadium on Tuesday.
The Saudis were the undoubted favourites going into the tie and stamped their authority from the first whistle. The Falcons' defence was watertight as it supremely executed a high line of defence, with their fullbacks given the freedom to wander well into the opposition half. The forwards found ample space to operate in the attacking third and were hardly challenged.
Juan Pizzi's men seized the early advantage via a sublime strike from Hatan Bahbri. He received the ball from Abdulaziz Al-Bishi on the left corner, dropped a shoulder to send the defender the wrong way and then buried the ball into the right bottom corner past the flummoxed North Korean keeper.
A lot was expected of Han Kwang Song, the first North Korean player to feature in the Serie A, but he failed to live up to the hype. He made a couple of darting runs towards the Saudi box but couldn't get past the army of white shirts.
As the game progressed, the North Koreans found it increasingly difficult to hold on to the ball and were left to simply fend off the Saudi attacks — which were ferocious and aplenty.
Mohammed Al-Fatil doubled the Falcons' lead with a moment of sheer brilliance. Hussain Al-Moqawhi fired a powerful free-kick into the box and Al-Fatil converted with an astonishing flying back-heel in Zlatan Ibrahimovic-esque fashion.
Trailing by two goals and unable make inroads into the opposition box, North Korea's woes continued as Song threw a rash tackle and picked up his second yellow card of the game, forcing his side to play the remainder of the game with a man down.
Saudi Arabia showed no signs of relenting and continued to repeatedly threaten the opposition defence in the second half. Captain Salem Al-Dawsari added the third with a fine left-footed strike from the centre of the box with 20 minutes left on the clock.
Fahad Al-Muwallad, who had a brief stint with Serie A outfit Levante, capped off a remarkable evening for the Saudis with a fourth goal in the 87th minute and set his team on the path for a fourth title.