A sizeable and vocal group of Uzbekistan fans flocked to Stadium Australia along with a large crowd of 12,078 neutrals that included the Pyongyang Ultras to watch their nation win a see-sawing battle against a somewhat cagey North Korea.
North Korean began the affair cagily, absorbing pressure and reading their opponent’s movement, Uzbekistan saw most of the first 25 minutes played in their attacking half. North Korean goalkeeper Ri Myong Guk had to thank the upright 16 minutes into play for keeping the secretive state on level terms, when it rebounded a header into his gloves.
North Korea’s first corner of the game came in the 26th minute and the secluded team began to gain a more even foothold, making use of their fast movement in trasition to open up space when winning the ball. The change of balance in the match wasn’t enough for the fans, with a heavy downpour of rain started sending fans higher up to the stands, some seeking refuge inside the concession areas.
Pak Kwang Ryong provided a scare in front of the Uzbekistan supporters, with his unmarked header from So Hyon Uk’s cross going wide of the post in the 32nd minute.
As the dark clouds began to roll over Stadium Australia and thunder clapped nearby, the sound of Chollima‘s thunderous hooves grew louder, with the North Koreans becoming more adventurous in their search for an opening goal.
Ri Yong Jik almost scored a much-needed opener for the North Koreans at the death of half time with a shot from a third of the way across the pitch, but his shot was agonisingly wide of the post.
The second half started with a similar scare, when Sanjar Tsursunov’s free kick found its way to the boot of Timur Kapadze. Ri Myong Guk this time had the height of the crossbar to thank, with the shot ending up too high.
Visibility was far from ideal and the centre of the pitch became waterlogged, leaving North Korea relying on finding chances from fast breaks and allowing Uzbekistan to find more possession.
The control finally paid off for Uzbekistan in the 62nd with Server Djeparov playing a pinpoint cross to the head of Igor Sergeev, who was able to direct it neatly into the bottom corner.
Sergeev had another chance 16 minutes later, misfiring Sardor Rashidov’s cross behind the defence. Bunyodkor’s Rashidov made a distinct impact after coming off the bench in the 72nd minute, with his runs down the flank causing plenty of trouble for the North Koreans.
Tokushima Vortis midfielder Ri Yong Jik almost caused embarrassment for his side shortly after, but Ri Myong Guk was positioned well to clean up from the 23-year-old’s miscued header.
Ri Myong Guk again came up trumps when the North Korean defence were left chasing the Uzbekis inside the box. Tursunov’s eventual shot was saved by the quick reflexes of Ri’s legs and eventually cleared to safety by Amroksang FC defender Jon Kwang Ik.
With the seconds ticking away in stoppage time it was Pak Kwang Ryong who gave North Korea a final chance, with his header forcing a brilliant save by Ignatiy Nesterov just before the referee blew the final whistle.
The three points for Uzbekistan are likely to be important in their chase for silverware, as they will have solid momentum heading into their Group B showdowns with Saudi Arabia and China later in the round.