Both sides had met in the Continental showpiece four years ago, with Saudi Arabia winning 4-1, but DPR Korea – powered by five players who had played abroad – went into the match confident of their chances.
The opening minutes saw possession evenly balanced but as the match progressed, the Green Falcons began to dominate with their first clear chance coming in the 13th minute through Abdulaziz Al Bishi’s left-footed strike which just missed the target.
Saudi Arabia’s Hatan Bahbri was a nuisance for the Koreans down the left flank and his cross into the box in the 24th minute showed his threat, with a sliding Ali Hadi Albulayhi just failing to connect.
Four minutes later, Bahbri did it on his own as he dribbled past DPR Korea’s Ri Il-jin and sent a curler from the left that left the DPR Korea goalkeeper rooted.
Juan Antonio Pizzi’s side grew in confidence after the goal and they doubled their lead in the 37th with an amazing goal.
Hussain Almoqahwi’s free-kick from just outside the box sailed into the box and Mohammed Al Fatil diverted it into the net with a back heel.
DPR Korea suffered another blow just a minute before the break when Han Kwang-song received a second yellow card for a tackle on Almoqahwi.
Despite being reduced to 10 men, Kim Yong-jun’s side refused to give up and came close in the 64th minute through skipper Jong Il-gwan but the Saudi defenders regrouped to deny him.
Moments later, Saudi Arabia had a missed opportunity with Fahad Almuwallad sidestepping defender Kim Chol-bom and ‘keeper Ri Myong-guk, but his shot flew wide.
The Chollima’s defence was beginning to show signs of tiredness, and the Green Falcons took advantage of it in the 70th minute, when Salem Aldawsari was left unmarked and the Saudi captain made no mistake from the centre of the box to make it 3-0.
There was to be a fourth as in the 87th minute, defender Kim Song-gi failed to clear Hamdan Alshamrani’s cross into the box, and Almuwallad slammed the ball into the back of the net to seal Saudi Arabia’s first opening AFC Asian Cup match triumph since they emerged champions in 1996.
Saudi Arabia will next meet Lebanon at Dubai’s Al Maktoum Stadium on Saturday, while DPR Korea will take on Qatar at the Khalifa bin Zayed Stadium on Sunday.