Bleary-eyed Korea Republic fans erupted with joy early Wednesday as their team won through to the last 16 of the FIFA World Cup™ for only the second time in eight attempts. Undeterred by the 3.30 am (1830 GMT Tuesday) kick-off, an army of red-shirted supporters packed venues nationwide to watch the Red Devils draw 2-2 with Nigeria in their final Group B match.
Police said 500,000 fans nationwide including 260,000 in Seoul watched the game in public on giant TV screens plus countless others at home. Fans, many sporting red plastic horns, packed City Hall plaza in central Seoul and surrrounding streets. Some wore business suits or school uniforms so they could go straight to work or school afterwards, and the cheering for the national team began even before the game.
Fans held placards reading "You will lose" in Korean script, a phrase which sounds similar to "Nigeria" in Korean. They fell silent after Nigeria's first goal, but when Lee Jung-Soo responded, ecstatic fans jumped up and down and hugged. Others let off fireworks on the road.
The optimistic crowd cheered and sang at half-time, their confidence boosted when Park Chu-Young scored with a free kick to put the Koreans ahead. Even when Yakubu Ayegbeni converted a penalty with 20 minutes to play, the fans packing venues across the country stayed hopeful.
A huge cheer went up when the giant screen at City Hall plaza showed Argentina scoring against Greece in the other Group B game -- ensuring Korea's own path to the next round for the first time away from home. With the Argentina-Greece game winding up just before Korea-Nigeria, the crowd began hugging each other and singing even before added time had been played out.
Fans put their arms around each other and danced a Korean circle dance before trailing away sluggishly but cheerfully to sleep, work or study. "It's a sensational moment. I'm so overwhelmed," said university student Jung Sae-Han, 20. "I am so proud of them and of 50 million Koreans."
Woo Da-Un, 27, said she was happy Park scored his first goal of the tournament. "We've achieved the round of 16. I hope we go to the round of eight and even the semi-finals."
Korea Republic have advanced to every FIFA World Cup tournament since 1986 but never made it to the round of 16 except in 2002, when the country co-hosted the event with Japan. Korea at that time went on to reach the semi-finals. The South Koreans will face Uruguay for a quarter-final spot.