Doha: South Korea kicked off its campaign to win the Asian Cup for the first time in 50 years with a 2-1 win over Bahrain in Group C on Monday.
Midfielder Koo Ja-cheol scored both his side's goals. He made it 1-0 in the 40th minute after collecting the rebound when Bahrain's goalkeeper failed to hold Cha Du-ri's shot. Koo gave his team a two-goal lead at Al Gharrafa stadium in the 52nd minute to reward South Korea's domination.
However, it was a nervy finish for South Korea as a defence-minded Bahrain pulled one back through Faouzi Aaish's penalty in the 86th after defender Kwak Tae-hwi was sent off for a foul on Abdulla al-Dakheel.
South Korea is one of the favorites in Group C to qualify for the knockout stages and reach at least the semifinals and coach Kwang Rae-cho was pleased with the opening performance.
Kwang praised his "well organised" and "united" team for the win and said his side is ready to face Australia, which defeated India 4-0 in an earlier match on Monday.
"(To win) is the only way to begin this tournament," Kwang said. "We now have to prepare to face Australia."
Injury-plagued Bahrain headed into the Asian Cup opener with high hopes of making up for narrowly missing out on qualification for the 2010 World Cup but it fell some way short.
Bahrain's coach, Salman Sharida, praised the Korean side.
"Korean team played better than Bahrain," Sharida said. "They controlled the midfield well and they deserved to win."
Sharida, who only took Bahrain over two months ago, said he hopes his side will do better in the next two matches against India and Australia.
"I have trust in our team and we still have two matches and we will play better," Sharida said.
Despite taking an early lead, South Korea continued to attack throughout the match, prompted by Manchester United midfielder Park Ji-sung. South Korea's captain lived up to his country's expectations, with a superb display of accurate passing, dribbling skills and high pace.
Along with Japan, South Korea was Asia's most successful nation at the 2010 World Cup, getting knocked out in the round of 16. The South Koreans have qualified for seven consecutive World Cups, reaching the semifinals in 2002.
However, the team has not been able to replicate that kind of consistency at the continental championship in recent years.
It hasn't won the Asian Cup for more than 50 years — its only titles coming in 1956 and 1960. Coach Cho, who was appointed in July, said they aim to change that at the 2011 tournament.