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Saudis rout N. Korea in Asian Cup opener

The Associated Press DUBAI (AP) — This time, Saudi Arabia was on the right side of a rout in its opening game at a major tournament.

The Saudis beat North Korea 4-0 on Tuesday at the Asian Cup with two well-executed goals in each half, dominating the game even before midfielder Han Kwang-song was sent off in the 44th minute.

At the 2018 World Cup, coach Juan Antonio Pizzi’s team lost 5-0 to host Russia in the showpiece first game featuring the two lowest-ranked nations.

Expectations are higher now for the 69th-ranked Saudis — fifth best in the 24-team Asian Cup — who are favored to top a politically charged group that includes Qatar. On Wednesday, Qatar begins its campaign against Lebanon in Al Ain.

Earlier Tuesday, Iraq scored in the 90th minute to win 3-2 against Vietnam, which led twice in the first half.

It was the first time Saudi Arabia won its opening Asian Cup game since winning the last of its three titles in 1996, when the tournament was also hosted by the UAE.

The Saudis next play Lebanon and won’t face Qatar until the final round of group games, on Jan. 17 in Abu Dhabi. Both could already have qualified for the knockout rounds with third-place teams in four of the six groups advancing.

Qatar has been subject to a diplomatic and logistical boycott by regional rivals including Saudi Arabia and the UAE for more than 18 months, putting the tiny emirate’s 2022 World Cup hosting under pressure.

Iraq, the surprise 2007 champion, twice trailed before halftime through an own goal by Ali Faez and a ricochet off Nguyen Cong Phuong’s foot from an attempted defensive clearance.

Substitute Humam Tareq leveled in the 60th after a scramble in the Vietnam goalmouth, before Adnan struck a worthy winner.

Iraq is second in Group D behind Asia’s top-ranked team Iran, which beat Yemen 5-0 on Monday.

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