(ATTN: ADDS 4th photo, comments in paras 13-15)
JINHUA, China, Sept. 19 (Yonhap) -- South Korea hammered Kuwait 9-0 to open their Asian Games men's football tournament in China on Tuesday, as their bid for an unprecedented third straight gold medal got off to a rousing start.
VfB Stuttgart midfielder Jeong Woo-yeong scored a hat trick while Gimcheon Sangmu FC forward Cho Young-wook grabbed a brace in the South Korean rout in Group E action at Jinhua Stadium in Jinhua, southwest of the main host city of Hangzhou.
The opening ceremony of the Asian Games is Saturday, but preliminary play in football began Tuesday in and around Hangzhou.
Coached by Hwang Sun-hong, South Korea will next play Thailand on Thursday and will close out the group stage against Bahrain on Sunday. Both matches will kick off at 7:30 p.m. in Jinhua, or 8:30 p.m. in South Korea.
Earlier Tuesday, Thailand and Bahrain played to a 1-1 draw.
Jeong scored the first goal just about two minutes into the contest. Kuwait failed to clear the ball after Jeong's one-two passing with Cho, and Jeong capitalized on that miscue by finding the back of the net with his right foot.
Cho then got in on the scoring act on 19 minutes. Winger Um Won-sang found space behind the defense and unleashed a shot that struck the left goal post. The rebound floated over multiple bodies and landed on Cho, who made no mistake with his right-footed shot.
South Korea were far from done. With the clock ticking down on the first half, captain Paik Seung-ho scored a picture-perfect free kick goal from outside the left edge of the box, his curler hitting the bottom of the crossbar and bouncing into the net.
Only seconds later, Jeong netted his second goal after taking a diagonal pass from Goh Young-jun that split the defense.
South Korea picked up where they left off in the second half, and Jeong completed his trifecta in the 48th minute. After Cho's initial shot from close range was turned aside by goalkeeper Dhari Al Otaibi, Jeong pounced on the rebound with his left foot to put South Korea up 5-0.
Um joined the party with his 52nd-minute goal, set up by a through ball from Cho that found a gaping hole in the defense.
Cho grabbed his second goal in 74 minutes with a left-footed shot through Al Otaibi's wickets. Subs Bak Jae-yong and An Jae-jun each scored late goals to put the finishing touch on the big win.
Coach Hwang said afterward his players will have to guard against complacency because an easy win such as this could hurt his team down the road.
"This was the first step of the seven we have to take to win the gold medal, and the players competed hard and stuck to our plans," Hwang said at the post-match press conference. "We should take some confidence from this match and forget about everything else. We have to work even harder the rest of the way. It's nice to win big but it could come back to haunt us later."
"We'll pretend this match never happened," Hwang added. "We have even more difficult matches coming up later and we have a long and challenging path ahead of us."
South Korea will be without Paris Saint-Germain midfielder Lee Kang-in for at least the first two group matches. The French club agreed to release the 22-year-old after their UEFA Champions League group stage match in Paris on Tuesday. Lee is expected to arrive in China by Thursday evening.
Lee, regarded as the most skilled and creative player for South Korea, will be a welcome addition to the team, even though they didn't need him for the breezy win Tuesday.