View Full Version : Korea Gives Backing to Hiddink and Japan

06-18-2006, 02:39 PM

It was a jubilant night in Seoul on Monday when Koreans watched Australia coached by Guus Hiddink pull three late goals out of the hat to crush Japan 3-1 in their first match at the World Cup football competition in Germany.

There was so much excitement, it was almost as if Koreans themselves had won the game. Guus Hiddink is the Dutch coach who took Korea to the semifinals in the 2002 World Cup competition.

Even though there was no local mass street cheering for Australia, many Koreans gathered in pubs, restaurants or at home with their televisions and shouted with joy each time an Aussie player found the back of the net.

Koreans have many reasons to be sympathetic to Australia, especially now that Hiddink coaches its team.

Moreover, it was Japan opposing Australia. In a country, where every sports game against ``the neighbor'' turns into a politically charged event, some people would naturally feel kindly to any country defeating Japan.

Despite all the reasons Koreans have for supporting Australia, not all of them did. Some Koreans gathered in a cafe in the youth district of Shinchon, Seoul, and shared seats with Japanese guests, cheering Japan on.

The 60 or so seats in the cafe named ``Kakehashi'' (Japanese for bridge) were all occupied. In front of the huge screen, fans of Japan, including about 10 Koreans, responded enthusiastically to Japan's performance but were not boisterous.

Park Ji-ae, 25, was one of the Koreans.

``I am here to cheer on the Japanese team. Japan is a country culturally and geographically close to us. So there is nothing strange about it,'' she said.

Was she ever a resident of Japan? No. In fact, she stayed in Australia for a long time, studying English.

``I studied there for one year. Still, I feel closer to Japan. I just went to Japan on a short trip, but when I was in Australia I made friends with many Japanese, and I am connected to them in a deeper way than Australians,'' Park said.

Park, who works at Incheon International Airport, came a long way from the western city to join the cheering. She had to return after the game was over around midnight, but she didn't care.

``It's fun. Sometimes, I come here to study with Japanese visitors and have some fun outdoor activities with them.

``Some people say they hate everything about Japan, but if they connect to that country, or Japanese people, I think things would be a little different. Anyway, we are the neighbors,'' she said.

For Jo An-na, a student at Hanyang Women's College who works in the cafe part-time, it was her day off. Nonetheless, she came to support Japan after receiving a cell phone message from her Japanese friend.

``She asked me in the message to cheer for her country and I made up my mind to cheer for Japan, not for Hiddink's team,'' Jo, 20, said.

``I am surprised to see these Japanese guys. They are so enthusiastic for their team. It's the same everywhere that people love football.''

Wee Han-eum, a 24-year-old Semyung University student, says he also likes Hiddink as other Koreans do, but he wished for a Japanese victory.

``I like Hiddink and his Australian team. But Japan is also a good team. There are nice players in it including my favorite Shunsuke Nakamura,'' he said.

Wee went on to say, ``I want to cheer for Japan. It's just a sports event, and hoping that nice things happen to a neighboring country is a sound sportsmanship. I think the World Cup is an opportunity for Korea and Japan to get closer each other.''

To the fans' delight, Nakamura scored in the 26th minute and the cafe momentarily filled with a roar of applause and acclamation.

Sotozaka Rie, studying Korean at the Institute of Language Education at Ewha Womans University, said she feels grateful to the Koreans. The 26-year-old Tokyo native says she will also cheer for the Korean team at the World Cup.

``I think they are supporting us as we are Asians and I feel so good about it. I will cheer for Korea as long as I stay here,'' she said.

The joyful mood in the cafe went on until the 84th minute when Tim Cahill fired an equalizer for Australia.

Park Yong-ho, the 45-year-old Korean owner of the cafe who opened it in 1997, said later many of the Japanese fans returned home downhearted, but adds they will come again the next day to cheer on Korea.

``As they did for the Japanese game, some of the Japanese students will come along with their Korean friends to watch the Korean team's game. It is a small step, and it is just a football game, but who knows? This might be a moment when real friendship between the two countries develops,'' he said.