Fans fill streets to cheer for Taeguk Warriors

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Fans fill streets to cheer for Taeguk Warriors


Fans donning red shirts cheer on the Korean U-20 team during its match against Ukraine in the U-20 World Cup final at a viewing party at Seoul World Cup Stadium in Mapo District, western Seoul, early Sunday. [YONHAP]

Tens of thousands of Koreans took to the streets nationwide to watch the nation’s under-20 football team on Sunday, expressing support for the young players who came up short in their first-ever World Cup final appearance against Ukraine.

Korea lost 3-1 to Ukraine, finishing second place in the U-20 World Cup. It was the country’s best-ever performance at a men’s FIFA event.

Seoul and major cities organized street cheering events to help fire up football fans, as the championship match kicked off at 1 a.m. on Sunday, Korean time. Holding a variety of cheering instruments and clad in red, the national football team’s signature color, football fans packed stadiums or other public viewing places across the nation.

As Lee Kang-in converted a penalty in the fifth minute to give Korea an early lead, fans stood up and yelled out with joy.

Yet as Ukraine scored three unanswered goals for its first title, Koreans were sad that Korea failed to win its first championship.

However, fans soon expressed support for the young Taegeuk Warriors.

“From the beginning, the players looked so tired, but I was so moved as they did their best until the end,” 24-year-old Kim Min-hee said.

She said that watching the match out on the street will be a good memory for her this summer.

“I’m sorry Korea did not win. But I think the fact that Korea reached the final was a big achievement,” said a 35-year-old woman, identified only by her surname Kim. “It was very fun to watch the game with people and cheer for the Korean team.

Public cheering events for World Cup matches first took root here during the 2002 World Cup, when Korea, a co-host with Japan, reached the semifinals.

Since then, during key football matches, Korean fans, clad in red shirts, come out of their homes to cheer their team on, turning plazas and other public places into seas of red.

Korea has never won a men’s FIFA tournament. The country’s previous best performances at FIFA-organized men’s competitions were fourth-place finishes at the 1983 U-20 World Cup in Mexico and the 2002 World Cup in South Korea and Japan.

In a reflection of support for the U-20 players, there are even petitions calling for them to be exempted from their mandatory military service.

In Seoul, the Korea Football Association (KFA), the country’s football governing body, organized a cheering event at the Seoul World Cup Stadium in western Seoul.

The KFA originally planned to use Gwanghwamun Square in central Seoul, one of two main locations for street cheering in the capital, the other being Seoul Plaza.

But it canceled its plan out of safety concerns as ultra-right wing party members have recently occupied part of the square to call for the release of jailed former President Park Geun-hye.

Outdoor events were held in several spots in Seoul, including outside the bustling Gangnam Station in southern Seoul and at the park surrounding Seokchon Lake in the city’s southeast.

Other cities, including the southeastern port city of Busan and the southwestern city of Gwangju, also turned red with football fans.

President Moon Jae-in said in a Twitter message Sunday he is proud of South Korea’s under-20 World Cup team after they finished in second place with a loss to Ukraine in the final.

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