Tens of thousands of South Koreans took to the streets nationwide for the nation's under-20 football team Sunday, expressing support for the young players who came up short in their first-ever World Cup championship in the final with Ukraine.
South Korea lost 3-1 to Ukraine, finishing in second place in the U-20 World Cup. It was the country's best-ever performance at a men's FIFA event.
Seoul and major cities organized street cheering events to help fire up football fans, as the championship match kicked off in Poland at 1 p.m. Sunday (South Korea time).
|Korean soccer fans cheer from Seoul's World Cup Stadium (Yonhap)|
Holding cheering tools and clad in red, the national football team's signature color, football fans packed stadiums or other public viewing places across the nation.
As Lee Kang-in converted a penalty in the fifth minute to give South Korea an early lead, fans stood up and yelled out with joy.
But as Ukraine scored three unanswered goals for their first title, South Koreans voiced regret that Korea failed to win their first championship.
However, fans soon expressed support for the young Taegeuk Warriors who did their best.
"From the beginning, the players looked so tired, but I was so moved as they did their best until the end," 24-year-old Kim Min-hee said.
She said watching the match on the street will be a good memory for this summer.
"I'm sorry South Korea did not win. But I think the fact that South Korea reached the final was a big achievement," said a 35-year-old woman, only identified by her surname Kim. "It was very fun to watch the game with people and cheer for the Korean team.
|Lights stay on late into the night at an apartment complex in Gangnam, Seoul.|
Street cheering for World Cup matches first took root here in 2002, when South Korea, a co-host with Japan, reached the semifinals during the World Cup.
Since then, for key football matches, South Korean fans, clad in red shirts, come out of their homes to cheer their side on, turning plazas and other public places into seas of red.
Football supporters enjoy watching big matches together on outdoor screens, shouting "Daehanminguk!" -- "Republic of Korea!"
in Korean -- and waving the national flag, the Taegeukgi, to support the Taegeuk Warriors.
South Korea have never won a men's FIFA tournament. The country's previous best performances at FIFA-organized men's competitions were fourth-place finishes at the 1983 U-20 World Cup in Mexico and the 2002 World Cup in South Korea and Japan.
In a reflection of support for the U-20 players, there are even petitions calling for military service exemptions for them. All able-bodied South Korean men are required to serve in the military as the country is technically at war with North Korea.
In Seoul, the Korea Football Association (KFA), the country's football governing body, organized a cheering event at Seoul World Cup Stadium in western Seoul.
The KFA originally planned to use Gwanghwamun Square in central Seoul, one of two main locations for street cheering in the capital, the other being Seoul Plaza.
But it canceled its plan out of safety concerns as ultra-right wing party members have recently occupied part of the square to call for the release of jailed former President Park Geun-hye.
Outdoor events on the streets were held in several spots in Seoul, including places outside the bustling Gangnam subway station in southern Seoul and at the park surrounding Seokchon Lake in the city's southeast.
Other major cities, including the southeastern port city of Busan and the southwestern city of Gwangju, also turned red with football fans. (Yonhap)