Dubai, January 8: Hwang Ui-jo insists that South Korea will improve as the tournament goes on after the Taeguk Warriors claimed a hard-fought 1-0 victory over the Philippines in their opening AFC Asian Cup UAE 2019 Group C match at Al Maktoum Stadium.
The two-time winners went into the game as heavy favourites but debutants Philippines, under Swedish coach Sven-Goran Eriksson, proved resolute in the opening 45 minutes, frustrating a frontline led by the 2018 Asian Games' top scorer Hwang.
South Korea sought to break the deadlock after the interval but the Philippines almost gave them a scare when Javier Patino wasted a good opportunity, before the East Asians scored the only goal of the game midway through the half when Hwang opened his account with a close-range finish.
"We had a number of chances during the first half and it was a shame we couldn't score," Hwang told AFC Media Channel.
"The Philippines played with five at the back and there was not a lot of space during the first half so we struggled to break them down.
"In the second half they tired and we were able to take advantage of the space; I tried my best to get a goal and in the end I'm glad I was able to score," the 26-year-old added.
South Korea began the tournament on the back of a strong seven months, which started with a stunning 2-0 victory over Germany at the FIFA World Cup that eliminated the four-time world champions.
The Taeguk Warriors then claimed gold at the Asian Games in Indonesia, and they are now on an eight-game unbeaten run under Portuguese coach Paulo Bento that has included an impressive victory over Uruguay.
But the East Asians have not been crowned continental champions since 1960 and have since finished as runners-up on four occasions - including four years ago in Australia - as they continue to chase that elusive third title.
"It was only the first match of the tournament so there is a long way to go," added the Gamba Osaka striker.
"We'll keep taking it game-by-game and try to win the next ones with better performances. We're very happy to start with a win after a tough match and I hope we will remain in the competition until the end."