North and South Korea in action against Uzbekistan and Oman
North and South Korea kick-off their Asian Cup challenges with duels against tournament chances Uzbekistan and potential outsiders Oman respectively.
The Taeguek Warriors must get off to a good start if they are to top their pool at the expense of hosts Australia, while the Thousand Mile Horse have little to lose against Uzbekistan.
South Korea v Oman
East Asian giants South Korea, odds-on at 8/15 to defeat minnows Oman, will be aiming to make a swashbuckling start to Group A, in part to make amends for what was a woeful World Cup campaign.
With a reputation to restore, the Taegeuk Warriors are expected to be in rampant form, with their raft of Europe-based stars looking to dominate former Rangers and Cameroon coach Paul Le Guen’s men.
Two-time tournament victors South Korea have won three of their four previous duels against Oman, whose best ever Asian Cup finishes are last-eight exits.
The Taegeuk Warriors will no doubt hope to ensure a comprehensive triumph over their first competitors, with in-form Bayer Leverkusen forward Son Heung-Min 9/2 to score first and stretch his legs against Le Guen’s side, or 6/5 to net anytime.
Mainz midfield maestro Koo Ja-Cheol, 11/2 to strike last, was one of the Taegeuk Warriors’ top performers and scorers in the last edition of this tournament, grabbing five goals, and could enjoy another purple patch in Australia.
Meanwhile, skipper and Swansea City star Ki Sung-Yeung, tasked with shielding the backline and creating from deep, knows the eyes of an expectant nation are upon him. The 25-year-old East Asian icon is a fabulous 3/1 to hit home anytime and contribute offensively as well as defensively.
On the other hand, Oman’s most high-profile name is Wigan Athletic-owned keeper and captain Ali Al-Habsi, who was recently linked with a temporary switch to former boss Roberto Martinez’s club Everton.
With Al-Habsi between the sticks, Oman are 11/4 to secure a vital draw or 15/4 to keep a clean sheet. Should that fail, Oman have top attacker Abdul Al-Muqbali, 10/3 in the anytime market, to call upon.
It appears Le Guen would, however, be more than happy with splitting the spoils. When asked if he would sign up for a draw ahead of the game the ex-PSG manager stated: “I will say give me the paper.”
With this underdog mentality in mind, back South Korea at 10/3 to score three or more.
Uzbekistan v North Korea
Uzbekistan are among the tournament favourites, making them odds-on favourites at 4/5 to triumph in their opening clash with the Thousand Mile Horse, but don’t count North Korea, 10/3 to win, out too quickly.
Coach Yun Jong-Su may be banned from the touchline, but his team are renowned for their determination and organisation.
Basel-owned forward Pak Kwang-Ryong is 8/1 to fire home first, or a fantastic 3/1 in the anytime market, to propel the Thousand Mile Horse onto a sterling start.
The White Wolves, however, have never lost to North Korea in five duels, and will be expecting to qualify with ease. Uzbekistan reached the semi-finals in 2011 before coming undone against Australia, so will fancy their chances of topping Group B.
Striking starlet Igor Sergeev and influential skipper Server Djeparov are 5/2 and 15/8 in the anytime market respectively and could certainly punish North Korea if they are too conservative.