Korea DPR have brought ten players to Guangzhou who featured at the FIFA World Cup™ in South Africa and while they lost all three games there, they proved too good for Korea Republic at a mostly empty Yuexiu Stadium.
Ri Kwang-Chon got the decisive goal, heading home nine minutes before half-time, with Hong Myung-Bo's men unable to find a reply despite playing against ten men for the final 25 minutes. Defender Pak Nam-Chol was sent off for his second yellow card.
It was a disappointing start for Korea Republic, who played without striker Park Chu-Young, who was only released by his French team Monaco at the weekend. Park was picked as an over-age player, but Monaco insisted on Friday that they would not let him take part.
However Park, another FIFA World Cup star, made clear in lengthy talks with Monaco coach Guy Lacombe that he wanted to be in Guangzhou and the club backed down. Korea Republic next face Jordan on Wednesday, desperate to win as they search for their first Asian Games title in 24 years, while Korea DPR take on the Palestinian territories.
Korea DPR coach Jo Tong-Sop said his team was brimming with confidence and looking to go all the way here. "Even though we had a player sent off, we were very confident and fought until the end," said Jo.
"South Korea put great pressure on us, particularly in defence, but we still played very hard and achieved our goal. It was a major victory for us because we made a big study of Korea and their tactics."
Jo said he felt his team was capable of winning the gold medal, but they were also in Guangzhou to learn. "Our objectives are simple - to enhance our experience of international matches. In addition, if we can play well we will try to qualify for the knockout rounds and win those games."
Korea Republic coach Hong Myung-Bo, who is looking to steer his team to their first Asian Games title in 24 years, was disappointed but not disheartened. "Obviously it is very disappointing and unfortunate for us," he said. "But we still have two more games to play and I believe that when we get our injured players back, we can win the next two games. I am confident we can still reach the final."
Malaysia, meanwhile, got their Games off to the best possible start with a hard-fought 2-1 win against Kyrgyzstan, while Vietnam upset Bahrain 3-1. Malaysia's victory came at a cost with injuries to key players.
Goals from Norshahrul Talaha and Chanturu Suppiah either side of half-time was enough to secure three points from the Group A game. But captain Norhafiz Misbah, Fakri Saarani and Suppiah all picked up injuries and were replaced.
Coach Rajagobal Krishnasamy said they were likely to miss the next game, and possibly more. "The injured [players] cannot play in the next game and possibly even the one after that," he said. "It is a very difficult situation. There are two important matches ahead, including against China. We have lost important players."
Krishnasamy was nevertheless pleased with Malaysia's first Asian Games victory since they beat the Maldives 3-1 in 2002. "We deserved the win. We made a very good start, it was not easy. For me though, it is a real pity that we lost the captain, who is very crucial," he said.
Asian arch-rivals Japan and China play each other later on Monday. Both sides will be keen to bag three points, with neither having won Asian Games gold before. China's best finish was silver at the 1994 Games in Hiroshima while Japan finished second in Busan in 2002.