|Kwak's sending off and the resulting penalty was a blemish on a polished performance from South Korea [Reuters]
South Korea began their bid for a first Asian Cup title in 51 years with a polished passing display to beat Bahrain 2-1 and settle behind Australia on goal difference at the top of Group C.
The Koreans dominated Monday's match for 85 minutes and led comfortably thanks to two goals from Jeju United's 21-year-old midfielder Koo Ja-cheol which were both aided by mistakes from the Gulf side.
Faouzi Aaish then made it a needlessly nervy last five minutes for the Koreans after he converted a penalty following defender Kwak Tae-hwi's dismissal for bringing down substitute Abdulla Al Dakeel in the area.
Group A - China, Kuwait, Qatar, Uzbekistan
Group B - Japan, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Syria
Group C - Australia, Bahrain, India, South Korea
Group D - North Korea, Iran, Iraq, UAE
However, the twice Asian champions resisted the pressure to record a fully-deserved win in front of the watching AFC president Mohamed Bin Hammam at a chilly Al Gharafa stadium.
The Red Devils took the lead five minutes before half time when Koo's right-footed strike near the penalty spot was deflected past Bahrain goalkeeper Mahmood Mansoor by his teammate Abdulla Marzooqi.
The second came seven minutes after the break when Mansoor could only parry Cha Du-ri's dipping 35-yard drive back in front of his goal to allow Koo a simple tap in from inside the six-yard box.
Bahrain, who missed out on a place at last year's World Cup when they lost to New Zealand in a playoff, offered little in attacking threat throughout the match with their coach Salman Shareedah providing the most entertainment.
The recently-appointed boss prowled the edge of his technical area demonstrating various frustrated poses in his grey suit.
He was given hope, however, when central defender Kwak fell into Al Dakeel with the referee producing a straight red card and awarding the penalty.
The Koreans have qualified for seven successive World Cups but have struggled in the 16-team regional competition after winning the first two editions in 1956 and 1960.
Their fans will hope that wait is coming to an end after a confident display against a side who narrowly missed out on qualifying for the last two World Cup finals in playoffs and had been expected to cause them problems.
The result puts the Koreans on three points in Group C, level with Australia who earlier thrashed lowly India 4-0 at the Al Sadd Stadium.