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Koreans treat U.S. draw as victory

Posted: Monday June 10, 2002 2:56 AM
Updated: Monday June 10, 2002 6:18 AM

 
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SEOUL (Reuters) -- More than a quarter of a million red-shirted South Korean soccer fans braved driving rain in front of giant television screens in the capital Seoul on Monday to watch a nail-biting 1-1 World Cup draw with the United States. The National Police Agency estimated some 660,000 people took to the streets at 81 outside sites to watch the match on big screens across a country gripped by soccer fever.

Offices, factories and schools closed early as South Korea's ebullient people took time out to watch the match.

Fans who turned out in Seoul were in high spirits but peaceful as they sang and chanted to the beats of drums and screamed through the emotional ups and downs of a match that ended 1-1 -- a politically neutral result that was a relief to security officials who had feared possible anti-U.S. unrest.

The crowd began congregating at dawn at a central intersection near the U.S. embassy for the biggest public gathering since the million-strong protests that helped remove hated military ruler Chun Doo-hwan 15 years ago.

The red shirts of the Red Devil supporters were outdone by red faces as the U.S. side went ahead in the 24th minute and South Korea's Lee Eul-yong missed the first penalty of the finals, which are being co-hosted with Japan.

An equalizer by heartthrob Ahn Jung-hwan 11 minutes before time restored the faith of a patriotic country of 48 million people.

"I felt bad that we drew because I bet my money on a 2-1 win against the U.S," said 48-year-old Kim Young-ran.

"We did much better than the U.S. but we lost many chances," she said, echoing many compatriots who declared moral victory against a country Koreans love and hate in nearly equal measure.

Despite fears, no trouble

A quarter of a million people packed the square in front of city hall and the central Kwanghwamoon intersection in Seoul. Yet less than half an hour after the final whistle most people had left the area and streetcleaners had moved in.

Asked if there was any trouble outside the nearby U.S. embassy, a senior police agency official told Reuters: "No, no. It was 1-1, so everybody thinks it was fair play."

But 50 km (30 miles) to the north of the capital, about 200 anti-U.S. protesters clashed with 500 police outside a U.S. military base in Paju before the match.

South Korea deployed tens of thousands of police in Taegu and Seoul to stop soccer passions spilling over into protests against the United States and its 37,000 troops in the country.

The U.S. embassy, several hundred meters from the popular crossroads gathering spot for local fans, closed at noon to avoid incidents and allow staff to watch the match. Police buses and guards surrounded the high-walled perimeter.

The South Korean army deployed 1,000 soldiers in the Taegu area to guard against possible Sept. 11-style attacks.

Koreans confident

In the World Cup stadium in Taegu, tens of thousands of fans clad in red booed as members of the American team were flashed up on two giant television screens.

President Kim Dae-jung, cheerleader-in-chief who donned a red cap and scarf to cheer South Korea in their victory over Poland on June 4, watched Monday's match on television. He had called on South Koreans to remain polite toward their rival-cum-guests.

Heading into the clash, South Korea and the United States had impressive wins against Poland and Portugal respectively. Poland and Portugal clash later on Monday in Chonju.

On June 14, South Korea takes on Portugal and the United States plays Poland in matches that will determine who advances to the next round from group D.

South Korean fans said they are not looking back.

"I feel something was wanting after the draw," said Kim Kyeong-wha, a 24-year-old office worker.

"But we will win next time, no doubt."


 
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