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Asia

Soccer fans cheer for both teams on Korean peninsula

Despite recent tensions on the Korean peninsula, fans on either side of the border have been supporting both Korean soccer teams. With N Korea knocked out of the competition, the S Korean team is now their only hope.

When North Korea was pitted against Portugal on Monday, fans on both sides of the border were rooting for them

When North Korea was pitted against Portugal on Monday, fans on both sides of the border were rooting for them

Many of this year's World Cup teams have nicknames. For instance, the squad from Japan is known as the Blue Samurai and the Cameroonians go by the Indomitable Lions. The South Koreans are the Taeguk Warriors but to their fans they are known as the Red Devils.

Each time South Korea have played, thousands have packed Seoul's World Cup stadium to watch a broadcast of the match, forming a sea of red over the grandstands.

South Korean soccer fans are not afraid to show their emotion

South Korean soccer fans are not afraid to show their emotion

The crowd has shouted Tae Han Min Guk (Korea in Korean) in unison each time a player has charged towards the opposing team's goal.

"Korean fans have a lot of pride"

Dressed in a red T-shirt and wearing flashing devil's horns, 17-year-old Kang Eun Ji did not think South Korean football fans were very different from others. "Don't all countries show as much passion for the football team as we do?" she asked.

But 63-year-old Kim Jae Gi thought Korean fans outdid other fans: "Of course other countries show passion too, but I think we take it up a notch, we have a lot of pride," he said.

Rooting for the national team during the World Cup is practically a patriotic duty here. Some companies have even been asking their employees to wear red on game days.

Jason Lee, who has been covering Korean sports for several years on English-language television here, thought that Korea's Confucian collective culture had something to do with the displays of sports nationalism.

"People are expected to cheer for the national team because that's what you are supposed to do, whether you like football or not, whether you like the national colors or not, whether you have national pride or not. You're supposed to do this so you do it," Lee said.

Support for North Korean team

Lee added that not only the South Korean World Cup team had benefitted from the national pride but that there had been great interest in the progress of North Korea.

Fans waving both a South Korean, right, and a North Korean flag, left, at the match between North Korea and Brazil

Fans waving both a South Korean, right, and a North Korean flag, left, at the match between North Korea and Brazil

"There is still a good majority of people in Korea hoping for a unification of the two countries and this is a small step toward that, giving them support. I think especially the younger generation clearly wants to cheer for North Korea and see them do well because they see them as brothers and not enemies," Lee said before the team was knocked out 7 to nil by Portugal on Monday.

At a sports bar in Seoul, spectators had cheered on the North Korean football team as they took on Portugal before their battering. 23-year-old Bae Hye-Rae said it was easy to understand why the South Koreans had supported the North Korean team "because we are all one people".

"North Korea and North Korean people are different," said 27-year-old football fan Hwang Sae-Hoon. "Maybe that's why I can support the North Korea soccer team because it's not politics."

North Korea had not played in a soccer World Cup since 1966

North Korea had not played in a soccer World Cup since 1966

If you believe the official North Korean media, the support has been mutual. Reports from Pyongyang said that fans there had cheered on the South Korean team. With North Korea out, the South Korean team is now the peninsula's only chance of getting to the final in South Africa.

Author: Jason Strother (Seoul)
Editor: Anne Thomas

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