Monday, August 1, 2011

2002 World Cup

Korean Adventure (July 5, 2002 Chautauqua)

World Cup Fever
I have never been a real big soccer fan, but it is hard to ignore over 5 million people in the streets. The Korean people are going mad for their team in this round of the World Cup. Korea is hosting the games, along with Japan, where the final will be played June 30th. Unfortunately, the Korean team lost to the Germans, and will not play for the top spot.

That does not matter too much to their fans, who, in the beginning, would have been content just to see them enter the second round. Korea and Japan were entered into competition because they were the hosts, otherwise they would not have qualified. I remember in my first year here, another teacher was trying to get tickets. He was hoping to get into the Korea-U.S.A. match. He did not hold out much hope for the Korean team to do well.
At that time, they were in disarray and not ranked any more than 40th in the world. They have improved greatly since then, and the credit is given to their Dutch coach, Guus Hiddink. This man is now worshipped in this country. There has been talk of erecting statues to him, and awarding him honourary citizenship.

In World Cup play before this tournament, Korea had yet to post a victory. The greatest success was achieved by a North Korean team, which reached the semi-finals in 1966. During the first round of 2002, Korea won twice, and tied one game (with the U.S.). They were the leaders in their division, and advanced to the next round.
This is when the fan support really took off. There were huge-screen TVs set up in front of city halls and in local parks. Hundreds of thousands of fans gathered to cheer the team on. They chose red as their team colour, which is kind of ironic in an anti-communist country like this one. I have become accustomed to seeing a "sea of red" overflowing the streets of major South Korean cities. The games (edited) have even been replayed in the North.

The scene in front of Seoul City Hall.

Korea's second round opponents were the Portuguese, and most of the Korean people I talked to did not give them much chance. When they won, it unleashed celebrations of the type I have not seen outside of the times a Calgary team has won a national championship, or the times an Edmonton team has won anything.
There were parades of fans down the streets, racing around in cars, flag waving, and constant chants of "Daehan Mingguk!" (Republic of Korea) or "Oh Pilseung Korea!" (Korea Is Sure To Win!). The celebrations have escalated each time Korea has won, building to ever greater heights of joyous expectations that are more than adequately fulfilled.

I really like the way she wears that shirt.

One thing that has not been present is the "hooliganism" that has accompanied most of the celebrations I have heard about. The Koreans have been remarkably restrained in this area. I was in downtown Taegu on June 22nd, after they defeated Spain. There were crowds celebrating everywhere, and they were more than happy to have us join in.

Daegu Stadium.

It has been a real Cinderella story, and the people here are not even too disappointed now that the coach has turned back into a pumpkin. They are just real happy that their team has done so well, coming up from obscurity to challenge and defeat some of the top teams in the world. Their enthusiasm and support of the sport has eclipsed that of Japan somewhat. Whether they win or lose in the third place game, they will never forget the wild ride of 2002.
The games were replayed endlessly on some Korean sports channels. The part I liked best showed two of the Korean commentaters calling the game in the stands among the audience. When the Koreans scored the game-winning goal, they both broke down crying.
One of my students gave me a 10,000won bill with Hiddink's face superimposed over that of King Sejong. I liked the idea so much I copied my own face onto a bill, made many copies, and used that funny money whenever we played games.


  1. walking here with a smile.. have a nice day ~ =D

    Regards, (A Growing Teenager Diary) ..

  2. The shirt she was wearing put a smile on my face and a spring in my step.