Crowds cheer to show pride in being Korean

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Crowds cheer to show pride in being Korean

History was made Saturday night when the Korean football team trotted onto the field in Port Elizabeth, South Africa, the first time it played in the World Cup Round of 16 on foreign soil.

And back in the homeland, the eyes of the nation were on the team.

“It really does not matter if we win this game or not,” said Kim Young-hwa, a 37-year-old self-employed businessman, who watched the game at COEX. “I’m out here to thank the Korean football players for the effort they put in for this World Cup match. They had 50 million people watching them, which must have been a big pressure and a burden.”

Even taxi drivers abandoned their shifts to watch the game against Uruguay. “It doesn’t matter if I can make a quota tonight,” said taxi driver Jung Hyung-seok. “I’m going home because it’s more important to celebrate that our team is still in competition.”

Nearly 1.6 million people around the nation cheered together at public screening areas, despite intermittent rain - 500,000 of them in Seoul. “It feels good to be part of this new phenomenon, public viewing of games,” said Lee Ji-young, 25, a student.

“We proved the world wrong,” said Park Jung-seok, 25, a salaried employee. “We deserved to be in the Round of 16, as opposed to the FIFA poll that showed Korea on top on the list of countries that were not expected to pass the team league matches.”

As the game proceeded, hopes for the Taegeuk Warriors kept the fans’ excitement at fever pitch, especially when Lee Chung-yong drove in a goal after 68 minutes. And even after Korea lost 1-2, the team and its management were cheered by the wistful fans. At COEX, the sportsmanship displayed by the team in South Africa was echoed back home, and fans gathered wet mats and balloons in one spot so the cleanup would be easier.

“I’m picking up garbage because it just looks so dirty,” said Lee Jun-hyung, a 24-year-old college student. “I don’t want to become one of those people I’ve seen on TV passing by piles of garbage without even looking at them.” Some people in the crowd came prepared for cleanup duty. “About ten people in their 20s and 30s bought large garbage bags so that they could clean up after watching the game,” said Lee Gook-hak, an employee of GS Retail.

New areas were designated as public viewing spots for this World Cup. “For the elderly and families with small children, parks near the Han River became popular this year,” said Choi Yong-jin, a general manager of CSIK Centurion Security Inc., which has done security duty for every World Cup game since 2002. “COEX became a hot spot as well. People in the southern part of Seoul needed somewhere close to home where they could cheer for the team without worrying about finding their way back home.”

“We came out because we are Korean,” said Choi. “That’s why people braved rainy weather to watch a game outside: to cheer with others and be proud to be Korean.”

By Lee Sun-min []
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