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World Cup 2010

South And North Korea Both Made History This World Cup

Kim Jung-woo celebrates at the end of South Korea's match against Nigeria.  The match ended in a draw, but South Korea will move on to the group of 16. Julie Jacobson/AP hide caption

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Julie Jacobson/AP

During the last World Cup in 2006, I was teaching English in South Korea. The tournament captured the hearts, minds and attention spans of practically the entire country. My students were woefully distracted, and I was helping strangers at the bus stop predict match winners with my simplified Korean.

I wish I was in South Korea now, celebrating in the streets after learning that after tying with Nigeria, Korea is advancing to the final 16.

My friends who still work there are posting status updates on Facebook about fervent fans and national obsession.  Like Lindsay Herron, who wrote: "Coming home tonight: a hundred people gathered in front of a large projection TV outside an LG electronics store; taxi driver surreptitiously watching the game on his dash TV; 2,000+ people crammed onto the athletic field at my university, watching the game on an enormous screen."

I look forward to her upcoming posts — I'm sure the pandemonium has greatly intensified.

Though I've been rooting for the USA and South Korea (the country of my birth and that where I've spent the most time outside home), I've also been watching North Korea. The country's team qualified for the first time since 1966, and the prospect of a North Korean team intrigued me.

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I was psyched when the North Koreans put up a great fight against top-ranked Brazil, and I felt crushed when they were pummeled by Portugal.

But I'm an outside observer, and I wondered how South Koreans would feel. Tension between the two countries has spiked recently, after a torpedo believed to be North Korea's sunk a South Korean naval ship and killed 46 soldiers.

Oh Kyu-wook, sports writer for the Korea Herald, says he backs the North Koreans, politics aside.

"It's really about football," Oh says. "As a football fan I don't really think about countries' political situations."

Oh also says that he likes the team because "they are part of Korea" and that he prefers watching North Korea's games than those of countries he's less familiar with.

On the other hand, Choi Hyun-duk, an old friend now based in Seoul, says she feels indifferent towards the North Korean team.

"I really don't think North Korea is our country and don't feel that we have to support them," Choi wrote in an e-mail.

People her age, Choi wrote, didn't seem interested in the North Korean team — but probably would be if South Korea's naval ship hadn't been attacked.

I also wrote to Herron, my teacher friend, asking what her students thought of the two Korean teams. Her adult students, she said, would root for North Korea as long as they weren't playing against South Korea.

Along with them, I'm still hoping North Korea goes home with one win under their belt. I'll be crossing my fingers on Friday, when they face off against Ivory Coast.

 

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