Attention shifts to Sydney for the opening game of Group B with Uzbekistan taking on DPR Korea at Stadium Australia in Sydney on Saturday at 6pm (AEDST).
Played 4: Uzbekistan 2 wins, 2 draws
There have been four previous meetings between the two. Uzbekistan holds the upperhand with two wins and the other results ending in draws. For those eagled-eyed fans looking for some intrigue in the games not involving the green and gold – North Korea have shrouded their arrival in mystery usually reserved for a M Night Shyamalan film. Saturday night will probably be the first time to set eyes on a team that doesn’t grace our shores very often.
Uzbekistan qualified for the tournament after squeaking through second in Group E behind the United Arab Emirates. The Central Asian side comes into the tournament in positive form, however, being unbeaten in six games since early October. They will fancy themselves to qualify from a group featuring opponents North Korea, China and Saudi Arabia setting up a quarter- final tie against a Group A team.
Meanwhile, North Korea have garnered a small band of Australian followers who are intrigued by the nation and culture. The team qualified for the forthcoming Cup three years ago as champions of the 2012 AFC Challenge Cup, where they defeated Turkmenistan 2-1 in the final. They have only four players based abroad including Ryang Yong-gi who plays with J-League outfit Velgalta Sendai, formerly and briefly coached by Sydney FC’s Graham Arnold.
The big issue
North Korea are the big fish in the small pond of lower ranked Asian nations and will find it tough against an Uzbekistan team that possesses continental experience with players based in Russia and Ukraine.
Uzbekistan captain and 32-year-old Seongnam playmaker, Server Djeparov, who has been named Asian Footballer of the Year twice (2008 and 2011), plays the number 10 role for his club side Seongnam Illwa and replicates that for his national side. The diminutive playmaker has 23 goals for his country and will hold the key to unlocking a dogged North Korean defence determined to keep a clean sheet and earn an unlikely point.
Uzbekistan should have enough to see off the challenge of North Korea and will win this game 3-0 to put them in pole position (albeit after a single game) in Group B.
Uzbekistan 3 – 0 Korea DPRcomments