Red Devils still hungry
By Cho Jae-hyon
There is nothing like football to drive South Koreans into such a wild, collective frenzy. The chant "Dae~hanminguk" (Republic of Korea) is a commanding spell that lets loose the "Red Devils" en masse.
Millions of supporters in red jerseys, despite the rain or the dark of night, have taken to the streets across the nation to rally behind their "Taeguk Warriors."
This red-clad legion of enthusiastic fans, dubbed the 12th Taeguk Warrior, is a vital source of energy that powers the players whenever they face their football foes in the World Cup in South Africa.
Living up to the high expectations of these passionate supporters, the South Korean squad pulled off a 2-2 draw with the Nigerian team to make it to the round of 16, a feat it has never achieved away from home.
Much kudos to coach Huh Jung-moo and his players!
South Korea has never claimed a berth in the knockout rounds on foreign soil though it reached the semifinals in the 2002 World Cup on its home turf.
The current team ― boasting a good mix of young talent, veterans, and overseas players ― has been viewed by many as the strongest squad to date.
They did not disappoint their fans who shouted "Oh, Pilseung Korea" (victory to Korea) all night long, until daybreak on Wednesday.
Before taking on Nigeria in Durban in a crucial Group B showdown, coach Huh told his players that: "The World Cup is a once-in-a-life-time opportunity." Indeed, his squad grabbed the opportunity to go further.
A ticket to the knockout stage means a fresh impetus for them to shed the image that they don't perform well away from home. The Korean players, after bowing out in the first round four years ago in Germany, proved this time that their football skills have improved not only in Asia but also on the world stage.
When South Korea was routed 4-1 by Argentina in its second match, coach Huh drew a great deal of fire from domestic and international media. He took a beating.
However, he bounced back, becoming the first Korean coach to lift his team to the second round of the World Cup.
Of course his glory should not stop there as the Red Devils are still hungry for more victories.
It's overwhelming to see such a large number of people get together to cheer for the team. No other sport unites so powerfully.
Where does this patriotic urge to support the national team come from? How come they pour out onto the streets so massively? Explaining it as mere herd behavior is simply not enough.
No people in any other country cheer their national teams the way the Red Devils do.
Putting aside ideological, generational and all other differences and conflicts, they just make cheering venues a huge melting pot.
It's thrilling to feel the heat in the middle of the crowds. For Koreans, it is a festival under the theme of football. And it seems pretty much addictive. Once you taste it, you will find it hard to resist it next time.
Making it to the final 16, the team is rewriting Korean football history.
This is sweet and refreshing for a nation that has been overshadowed by the standoff with North Korea over the March sinking of the South Korean naval ship Cheonan.
While the two Koreas are in diplomatic war mode as the South presents its case concerning the sinking to the United Nations Security Council, citizens are more interested in the World Cup, in that both Koreas have qualified for.
The Taeguk Warriors are marching on, but the North Korean team is doomed to return home soon, after two losses.
The North Korean people reportedly cheered the South Korean team, and most South Koreans wanted both Koreas to advance to the second round. This shows that sympathy runs two ways across the heavily-armed demilitarized zone. It was disheartening to watch "our enemy team" trounced 7-0 by Portugal.
Football has the power to unite people. Therefore, it could be used as a link to bring the two Koreas closer, especially since Seoul is seeking the involvement of Pyongyang for its bid to host the 2022 World Cup.
After successfully holding off the Nigerian players' last-minute attacks, the Taeguk Warriors were in jubilation, embracing each other and shedding tears of joy. So were all the Red Devils. Their challenge and dream continues.