- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 25, 2002

SEOUL Yesterday was a national holiday. Today, a national celebration of the World Cup tournament will be held.

And even if their beloved Red Devils were to lose to Germany in today's semifinal, the millions of fans on the streets of Seoul and other major cities will politely pick up every scrap of paper immediately after the final whistle.

It's just the South Korean way.

"In 1988, the citizens were enthusiastically participating in the Olympic Games and also cleaned up every street and every building in the downtown area and near the stadium," Kim Ho-dong, director of the international sports division of the Ministry of Culture and Tourism, recalled.

It's far different from four years ago, when the Champs Elysees was a mess after the all-night party that followed France's 3-0 win over Brazil. And it's a refreshing change from the violence-filled celebrations that sometimes follow sports victories in Europe, South America and even the United States.

"Compared to Western countries, it is very peaceful, relatively little violence," said Lee Jang-joung, professor of sociology and demography at Kook Min University. "That is something different between Western supporters and Korean supporters. If this was a trivial game between professional teams, maybe they would leave papers and waste. But they think that the world watches them, this is a special case, so we must be clean and present a clean image to the world."

Clearly, holding half of the first World Cup in Asia has boosted South Korean soccer and the South Korean people. And with their team's unprecedented success, soccer culture has taken hold among the young.

"Obviously, it's incredible for the people," said Guus Hiddink, South Korea's Dutch-born coach. "Of course it's beyond expectations even mine. In May, I got a bit of confidence that they could do more than just participate."

Shocking even themselves, South Korean players beat Poland, Portugal, Italy and Spain, becoming the first Asian team in the World Cup semifinals. The winner of today's game advances to Sunday's final against Brazil or Turkey in Yokohama, Japan.

It remains to be seen how many Red Devils supporters would make the trek to Japan the nations are separated by the East Sea, according to the South Koreans; the Sea of Japan, according to the Japanese.

At each South Korean game, the stands have been filled nearly entirely by supporters wearing red. The fan club, the Red Devils, unfurls a 40-by-60-yard, 3,000-pound South Korean flag during the national anthem.

Then, they use flip cards to spell a message. They started in the first round with "WIN 3:0" against Poland, "GO KOR 16" against the United States and "Dae-han-min-guk" ("Republic of Korea") against Portugal. The second-round sign was "AGAIN 1966," a reference to Italy's loss to North Korea in the 1966 World Cup, and the quarterfinal sign against Spain was "PRIDE OF ASIA."

"It's worth about two goals for Korea," U.S. coach Bruce Arena said. "You'll see when Korea has to qualify in the next World Cup and play outside of Korea, believe me, it's going to be a different story."

Before this year, South Korea was 0-10-4 in World Cup play. With each victory, the throngs filling the streets increased. Police estimated 7 million of the nation's 47 million people would watch the game on giant television screens at 400 sites, including 3 million in Seoul. The city government said it planned to deploy 3,384 firefighters at the Seoul World Cup Stadium and 27 plazas, parks and other public spaces in Seoul, and place 172 ambulances on the streets.

"We didn't expect this kind of situation, really," Kim said. "For national identity, especially among young people, Koreans are proud of the success. Our slogan is 'Dynamic Korea, the hub of Asia.' I feel it's really dynamic."

In 1996, FIFA's executive committee voted unanimously to award the 2002 tournament to Japan and South Korea, bitter rivals following Japan's colonization of Korea from 1910 to '45. They argued where to have the opener and the final, even what the official name of the tournament would be before settling on "2002 FIFA World Cup Korea/Japan."

South Korea spent $2 billion to construct 10 new stadiums. Come next week, the teams and fans will have gone, but the stadiums will remain.


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