Frenzy over 'little final' in South Korea

updated: February 25, 2007 09:27 IST
  • Total Shares


They turn up everywhere - student fans who wave national flags, hold handwritten "I love you!'' messages and play a hide-and-seek game with police who try to flush them out of hotel corridors and elevators. It's the same outside the hotel where South Korea's World Cup team is staying. Fans shout the names of their favourite players until well past midnight. On Friday, they were back again. Three days after South Korea lost 1-0 to Germany in the semifinals, South Koreans' love for their team has hardly cooled. The fan frenzy will continue when Guus Hiddink's team plays for third place against Turkey on Saturday in Daegu, a central Korean city. Hiddink led the Netherlands to the semifinals four years ago in France, where his team lost to Brazil on penalties. Croatia then defeated the Dutch for third place with striker Davor Suker scoring his sixth goal to seal the Golden Boot award for tournament top scorer. "It was not a nice experience. The game was under-motivated on both sides," Hiddink said. "It was just a game to play and go home afterward.... I don't think that in these circumstances here, it will be the same game. We are obliged. The players feel that they should bring to the public, to the fans in and outside the stadium, a good performance one more time,'' he said. "I don't think it will be a boring third-place final.'' For millions of South Korean fans, Saturday's match will be a "little final.'' On match day, police expect huge crowds of red-clad fans to fill streets and plazas in Seoul again as if their "Red Devils'' were playing in the real final. Koreas are hoping for what they call "the beauty of a meaningful end.'' By becoming the first Asian side to reach the World Cup semifinals and outshining co-host Japan, which was eliminated in the second round, South Korea has achieved much more than it expected. "We will fight for third place and we are as determined as when we started out in the tournament,'' midfielder Yoo Sang-chul said. With both South Korea and Turkey playing fast and offensive football, "the greedier team will win on Saturday,'' Yoo added. Turkey is also buoyed by an impressive showing in only its second World Cup appearance. Turkey lost 1-0 to Brazil on Wednesday in the other semifinal. Turkey's last trip to the World Cup finals was in 1954, the year South Korea also made its debut at the tournament. Turkey gave South Korea a 7-0 drubbing, but few South Koreans harbor bitter feelings, largely because Turkish troops fought and died for South Korea during the three-year Korean War that ended in 1951. The duel with three-time winner Germany left South Korea with little sense of defeat. Many South Koreans are still upbeat despite the loss. The team's achievement was a huge morale boost for most South Koreans, who have long had an inferiority complex from being squeezed between China and Japan, which throughout history have repeatedly invaded and subjugated Korea. This year, South Korea ended its string of winless performances at previous World Cups, beating Poland, Portugal, Italy and Spain to reach the semifinals. South Korea also tied the United States. The World Cup success unleashed an outpouring of patriotism with 7 million people flooding the streets during Tuesday's game against Germany, chanting "Dae Han Min Kuk!'' or "Republic of Korea!'' South Korea's new "W-Generation'' youths networked over the Internet to gather by the millions in spontaneous display of patriotism on match days. They painted national flags on their faces, draped them over shoulders and wore them as shirts, skirts and scarves. "They did a very big job in helping us,'' Hiddink said. "It's not a miracle; it's just a big, big achievement ... Korean people can be very proud of what the team has achieved. Korea is not a little nation any more.''