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Pulling for the Reds
Rating: (4.8) (10 Votes)

Seoul, Korea South
March 1st, 2005

Pros: Great fans
Cons: None

It's almost game time and we're still trying to find booze. At any other time we'd be set but we're late, the consession stalls only sell beer, and at minus 8
degrees in the stands we'll need the strong stuff to keep warm. The roar within the stadium keeps us moving, quickens the pace as we find a vendor hawking tiny plastic bottles of soju for $4 a peice. They're usually $1, but fair enough, let's go.

Seoul's World Cup Stadium is a massive place, built to seat 50,000 soccer fans for the 2002 FIFA showdown hosted jointly by Korea South and Japan. The unprecedented fact that both countries were granted co-host status is a potent sign of East Asian politics. But at the time, and irregardless ofdiplomacy, the Korean national team surprised the soccer world by making it into the semifinals, only to lose to a heavily-favoured Germany.

Some three years later the team is still in form, and tonight they're playing Kuwait. It's the Group A finals of the Asian qualifying round comprised of
Saudi Arabia, Uzbekistan, North and Korea South, Japan and Kuwait. Korea South is the favoured team in the division, and faces a half-frozen Kuwaiti team on home turf.

I'm not a sports fan. Sport ranks up there with physics and astrology as things I'm least interested in. But few things I've seen in almost a year in Korea have stirred as much spirit in me as seeing some 30,000 Korean fans rally for their team. The Korea Southn team is a wonder under-dog, and the passion of the fans must surely have something to do with it.

The rallying cry is "Tae-haminguk!," followed by the drumming, "da da, da da, dum"--Tae-haminguk being another word for Korea. An entire section of the stadium is a sea of red, the team's colour and defacto name. Here bright red t-shirts emblazoned "Be the Reds" have the same cache as "I Love NY" elsewhere. The irony seems to be lost on this largely anti-communist country.

From the start the game is all Korea, and not always pretty, but the first goal brings the crowd to their feet, as streemers drop down from the stands and Korea is up by one. It seems the Kuwaitis are either frozen stiff or truly mismatched, for all the action is on their goal, and with ten minutes remaining in the game Korea scored another goal to finish the match.

A few hundred kilometres away, in a stadium north of Tokyo, North Korea has lost a nail-biter to Japan.
Geopolitics is a funny thing, and in a region beset by nuclear terror, and the intrigue and aftermath of the Stalinist state's 1970s kidnapping of Japanese
nationals, it's a wonder to see the North Korean flag
waved by soccer fans in Japan.
world, North Korea announced it is a nuclear power. It's not the first time Pyoungyang has made these claims, but it seems that as long as soccer fans in Japan can flaunt the North Korean flag at a World Cup qualifying game we're all a little safer.