Shouts, hugs, tears in a red nation

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Shouts, hugs, tears in a red nation

Red blanketed the nation Tuesday as soccer fans turned out to support the Korean national team against Italy -- to shout, hug and cry over the marvelous, comeback victory of its home team.

Some 100,000 people at Daehangno leaped and yelled when the Korean striker Ahn Jung-hwan's golden goal ended the game in overtime. Firecrackers resounded and paper streamers fluttered to celebrate the upset victory.

"I feel as if I could go to heaven. This is not only the victory of the Korean players but also of the Korean people," said Jang Seok-min at the Convention and Exhibition Center at southern Seoul.

Foreigners who watched the game at Gwanghwamun also were overwhelmed by the match. "I am amazed that a tiny nation, similar to Ireland, has beat the perennial soccer power Italy," said Ian O'Connell from Ireland.

Police estimated that some 3.5 million persons -- 700,000 more than the congregation for Friday's match against Portugal -- gathered at 311 outdoor plazas nationwide. Except for the police, just about all of them wore red, the team's color.

Plazas at City Hall and Gwang-hwamun, the hub of Seoul's rooting centers, drew about 1 million people. Police stationed 25,000 officers to deter violence as some fans occupied roads, damaged vehicles and climbed onto the roofs of buses.

"I left home at 7 a.m. to occupy the best spot," aid Lee Ji-yeong, who cheered at Daehangno in central Seoul. Rooters wore red hair bands that bore slogans such as "Be the Red," "We Love Hiddink," and "Korea to the Quarterfinals."

Peddlers and vendors at the rooting plazas did a roaring trade. Many rooters bought red stick balloons to wave and clap together. The balloons are a hot item for the cheering squads of Korean professional baseball teams. Photographers taking instant pictures were also busy.

The festive mood disrupted routines at schools and workplaces.

"Most students reported to school in red shirts, and some classes were practicing Red Devil cheers and painting their faces," said Jeong Eun-hui, a teacher at Jangwi Elementary School in northern Seoul. Some schools dismissed students early to let them cheer outdoors with their parents.

In Daejeon, city authorities lowered the water level of a local waterway from 3.3 meters to 1 meter in case excited fans should jump into the water. Dunsan-dong, downtown Daejeon, was a scarlet mass as office workers came to work in red shirts.

by Lee Seung-nyeong, Cho Han-pil

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