A Red-letter day for football fans
It was a sleepless and electrifying night for Red Devils who opted to stay awake to watch Korea tie Nigeria 2-2 in the World Cup match that began at 3:30 a.m. yesterday.
Streets across the country turned red as more than 500,000 people sporting red T-shirts turned out to cheer the Korean national team. Some restaurants and bars that normally close around midnight kept their doors open to attract fans who ditched precious sleeping hours to support the Taegeuk Warriors.
When the whistle blew at the end of the breathtaking, hard-to-anticipate 90-minute game, shouts of joy and excitement filled the air. Some people wept while others hugged strangers.
It will be remembered as a special night for many Korean football fans, who habitually lose sleep during the World Cup. For the first time, the Korean team secured a berth in the Round of 16 on foreign soil.
“It was my honor to see the Korean team win a ticket to join in the Round of 16. My friends and I didn’t sleep a wink, but it was worth it,” said 22-year-old Park Eun-sam, who watched the match at Seoul Plaza. “We’re all happy with the victory because we got here anxiously hoping that the Korean team would make it to the next round, but we weren’t sure.”
The Seoul city government estimated that more than 70,000 football fans spent the night at Seoul Plaza to celebrate the historic game.
Lee Su-hyeong, a riot police officer who guarded the area between Gwanghwamun and Seoul Plaza for 12 hours beginning Tuesday night at 8, said that while he had to keep his eyes on the crowd instead of the large TV screens, he clenched his fists as he heard the fans shout “wow” when Lee Jung-soo scored the equalizer in the 38th minute.
“If I weren’t in riot police uniform, I would have really wanted to join the festive atmosphere,” Lee said. “But passersby’s words of encouragement motivated me to work hard.”
President Lee Myung-bak immediately sent the national team a congratulatory telegram.
“The Taegeuk Warriors didn’t lose concentration during the entire game and did the best they could, and that gives the public courage and hope,” the telegram read. “One person’s dream is only a dream, but a dream shared by everyone can turn into reality. All Korean citizens will be with you to support your fierce challenge for the Round of Eight.”
Korea faces Uruguay in the Round of 16 on Saturday in Port Elizabeth at 11 p.m., Korean time. Analysts estimate that more than 3 million fans will flock to the streets and other outside venues to watch the game.
But amid the celebration came one tragedy: A 20-year-old male college student surnamed Lee drowned after he jumped into the Han River to celebrate the victory with his friends at 6:30 a.m.
By Kim Mi-ju, Song Ji-hye [firstname.lastname@example.org]