Korea gives Cup squad hero's parade
SEOUL, South Korea (AP) -- With confetti fluttering down, South Korea's World Cup squad rode a motorcade through Seoul on Tuesday as tens of thousands of fans poured into the streets to celebrate the team's storybook success in the tournament.
Twenty-three players waved from the platforms on several trucks decorated to look like a giant soccer ball, a traditional Korean wedding sedan chair and other festive symbols. Balloons soared. Fans danced and chanted "Dae Han Min Guk" -- "Republic of Korea."
World Cup co-host South Korea was the first Asian nation to reach the semifinals of the sport's premier event. Its stunning performance galvanized the country, driving millions of people onto the streets to cheer for their team on match days.
Winless in its five previous trips to the World Cup, South Korea's team was regarded as a long shot even for the 16-nation second round. But the team, led by Dutch coach Guus Hiddink, rallied to the semifinals by defeating European soccer powers Portugal, Italy and Spain. It lost to Germany in the semifinals.
The public and news media have hailed Hiddink and the players as national heroes. South Korea even made Monday as a one-time national holiday to celebrate.
"We will always remember you!" said a huge poster draping a central Seoul building and showing Hiddink and his squad. Many teen-age fans turned up with posters of Hiddink or carrying "I Love You!" messages for players.
President Kim said he had hardly imagined the team would do so well.
"I was worried that we, as a co-host, may not even make the last 16. But as we made it to the last 16, last eight and last four. I thought this may be a dream," Kim said Tuesday upon returning from co-host Japan, where he attended the World Cup closing ceremony on Sunday.
The team's 80-minute motorcade ride started at Seoul's "Coex" convention-hall complex, traveled across the Han River bisecting the capital and stopped at central Seoul's Gwanghwamun district, where up to 1 million fans had cheered their side on match days, watching the games on giant television screens.
Standing in an open car with a wreath around his neck, Hiddink waved a Korean flag at tens of thousands of fans jamming the streets.
During a ceremony at Gwanghwamun, the government was to present Hiddink with honorary Korean citizenship.
The Dutchman was also slated to receive the "Blue Dragon Medal," the most prestigious of five medals that can be bestowed on athletes and coaches.
Hiddink's coaching staff and 23 players were to be given the second-most prestigious award, the "Brave Tiger Medal."
Fireworks and pop singers were also part of the 21/2-hour evening program, organizers said.
The players will receive up to 300 million won (dlrs 230,000) in bonuses from the country's football association for reaching the semifinals. Hiddink will also walk away with an unspecified cash reward.
Similar celebrations were to be held in two other World Cup host cities in South Korea, Busan and Gwangju.