- Associated Press - Saturday, January 10, 2015

SYDNEY (AP) - Igor Sergeev headed in the only goal during a rain-sodden second half to give Uzbekistan a 1-0 win over North Korea on Saturday in the opening Group B match at the Asian Cup.

Uzbekistan was the dominant side throughout, and despite the rainstorm that swirled around Stadium Australia, it created a host of chances.

“The first game is always tough and there was a little bit of pressure before the game’” Uzbekistan coach Mirdjalal Kasimov said.

Uzbekistan nearly opened the scoring after 17 minutes after a tidy move started by Server Djeparov.

The two-time Asian player of the year found Sergeev, who in turn fed Sanjar Tursunov. He crossed to the back post where Timur Kapadze rose highest but his header bounced off the post after a deflection from a North Korean defender.

Pak Kwang Ryong had North Korea’s best chance in the first half, but couldn’t quite direct his header on target in the 32nd.

“We really wanted to win this match today but I thought the Uzbekistan team was very good and they had ability,” North Korea coach Jo Tong Sop said. “For our team I don’t think we showed our ability to the fullest today. If we’d done a little better then it could have been a different result.”

Jo only re-assumed control of the Chollima just ahead of the tournament, with the previous incumbent Yun Jong Su suspended for one year after excessive protests following North Korea’s defeat to rivals South Korea in the 2014 Asian Games final.

Also, the North Koreans opted to name one less player than the allowed 23 in their squad, leaving out star striker Jong Tae-se and including Ri Sang Chol, despite the fact that the Rimyongsu FC midfielder is suspended for three matches.

There was a decent amount of support for the team - predominantly from locals who appeared to have adopted the nation for this clash - and both North Korean and Korean unification flags were visible in the stands.

That didn’t deter Uzbekistan, though, which picked up where it left off in the second half, with North Korea keeper Ri Myong Guk doing well to keep out Vitaly Denisov’s skidding, long-range strike in the 52nd.

He was powerless 10 minutes later, though, when Sergeev nodded home the winner from Djeparov’s perfectly-delivered cross from the left in the 62nd.

“I’m happy to score in this kind of match but it doesn’t matter who scores, the main thing is that our team has won,” Sergeev said.

North Korea almost snatched a last-minute equalizer, but Ignatiy Nesterov produced a superb reflex save to stop Pak’s header crossing the line with the last action of the game.

“It was the last minute and I would like to thank our goalkeeper, it was a great save,” Kasimov said.

North Korea made it to the semifinals at its first trip to the Asian Cup in 1980, but hasn’t progressed from the group stage in either of its last two appearances, in 1992 and 2011.

___

Lineups:

Uzbekistan: Ignatiy Nesterov, Shavkatjon Mulladjanov, Anzur Ismailov, Azizbek Haydarov, Server Djeparov, Odil Akhmedov (Sardor Rashidov, 72), Igor Sergeev (Bakhodir Nasimov, 89), Sanjar Tursunov (Jamshid Iskanderov, 93), Timur Kapadze, Vitaliy Denisov, Akmal Shorakhmedov.

North Korea: Ri Myong Guk, Jang Song Hyok, Jon Kwang Ik, Ryang Yong Gi, Pak Song Chol, Pak Kwang Ryong, Jong Il Gwan, Jang Kuk Chol, Cha Jong Hyok, So Hyon Uk (Om Chol Song, 65), Ri Yong Jik.


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