So far, so good for South Korea as they chase their first AFC Asian Cup title in more than half a century. Here are three points to come out of their 1-0 victory over Oman in Canberra in their opening match in Group A.
1. A win but South Korea need to improve
When Australia came roaring back from a goal down to Kuwait to win 4-1 on Friday night, the message was clear: the hosts are here and hungry. The Socceroos shouted out a statement. Group A rivals, South Korea were less articulate. They mumbled something or other and then shuffled off this rain-sodden stage.
Nobody expects perfection on the first night when passes are fluffed and the timing is off. Even so, the early exchanges were disappointing from an East Asian point of view. South Korea looked laboured and only lifted the tempo intermittently despite the efforts of coach Uli Stielike to get his charges going.
The German had told his players to shoot more often when they can see the whites of the goalkeeper's eyes, and this is what Koo Ja-cheol did. The FSV Mainz man's low drive was rebounded by Ali Al Habsi. Cho Yong-cheol, who broke his national team duck in a 2-0 win over Saudi Arabia last Sunday, reacted quickly and smartly to roll the ball home.
It settled nerves, damaged Oman's increasing confidence and set the Taeguk Warriors up for the second half. Matters improved then, with Korea switching play effectively and moving the ball around in a way that even had the German boss nodding in approval. One such move, a lovely one, had Koo heading a perfect Park Joo-ho cross into the top of the net, only for Al Habsi to stick out an arm. The former firefighter had more and more blazes to deal with.
The Koreans were in control now with the uncertainty of the first half a fading memory. A second goal would have killed it. Yet, since when did the 2002 World Cup semifinalists actually kill games? The lack of pace and decisiveness in the penalty area was again frustrating. As the final whistle drew closer, control started to fade and nerves grew bigger. In the end, the men in red were hanging on.
Still, it was three points with a very winnable game to come against Kuwait. It is a decent start for a Korean team who can play much better. If they are to end a 55-year Asian Cup drought, they will have to.
2. Goal changed everything for Oman
All the talk before the game was of how the jet-fuelled heels of Son Heung-min would have the men from Muscat in a tizz. But nobody told Qasim Said or Abdulaziz Al-Maqbali. Oman soon realised, or, more likely, already knew pretty well, that the Korean back four are susceptible to pace, even with Kim Ju-young coming in at centre-back. The Omani attack caused problems with their running, pulling the fairly new-look back four out of position and creating space and chances that should have been better used.
Oman are no easy beats. This is one of the most settled and stable teams in Asia. Frenchman Paul Le Guen is going for a fourth year in charge; at this tournament only Carlos Quieroz of Iran can look back to 2011 in the same job. The Gulf Cup was a good one. A losing semifinal at the hands of Saudi Arabia is no disgrace, and the 5-0 thrashing of Kuwait was a major highlight.
The goal came at a bad time for a team visibly growing in confidence. After 45 minutes, Oman, happy with a draw, were where they wanted to be -- on level terms -- but with the opportunity to trouble the Koreans. Yet, it all changed in first-half injury time. As a result, the second half saw Eid Al Farsi and Mohamed Ali Siyabi with less influence and less of the ball, spending more time watching red shirts glide away. Oman could do little but move backward as Korea took control.
There was always going to be a chance, though, and the best came with 15 minutes remaining. Al Farsi found Al-Maqbali at the far post. But the striker didn't do what the best strikers do, which is score when his team were in desperate need. Instead, he did what all strikers do when they miss -- blame the pass.
3. An encouraging start for Canberra
There were some eyebrows raised when six games -- a quarter of the entire group stage -- were given to Australia's capital city. Regarded more as a place for rugby than football, it doesn't have an A-League club to call its own.
The rain, which arrived 90 minutes before kickoff, didn't help, and the compact Canberra Stadium was never going to sell out. 12,552 was the official attendance in a half-full stadium where Korean fans vastly outnumbered their Omani counterparts. But they were still in the minority compared to the curious neutrals, who produced a lively atmosphere.
The Korean fans led and, at times, the locals followed. Perhaps some high-tempo football on a lazy sunny Saturday afternoon would have created more memories and incentive for people to return for upcoming Asian Cup matches, in preference to Canberra's renowned national museums and art galleries.