Despite the recent threat by North Korea to attack its southern neighbour, last night an estimated 1000 South Koreans gathered at a temple in Seoul to cheer on their neighbour, North Korea in a crucial World Cup match. The event which carries the theme " On Peace, Korea " was organised by the Bong Eun Sa Buddhist Temple along with welfare group and a radio station.
The undeterred crowd gathered to watch the North Korea-Portugal clash on a giant screen in the temple parking lot and on 30 TV screens inside. Spectators waved "unification" flags and yelled "One Korea" in support of North Korea.
"I think North Korea will win and I came here to cheer for them because they're one of us," said Jung Jae-Sun, a woman in her forties.
Another woman in her sixties said she had been touched by the tears which the North's Japan-based striker Jong Tae-Se shed before his team played their first match against Brazil last Wednesday."I think if you cheer together, Korea will be united quicker," she said.
The North lost 2-1 to Brazil but earned praise for their spirited defence.
But they had no answer to a merciless Portugal on yesterday, going down 7-0 and out of the tournament.
Kim Joon-Hyok, 50, said he was thankful to the North Koreans for letting him enjoy the event twice over."Although they lost, I think it's good that they (the North and South Korean teams) enjoyed the world festival together."
But the crowd sitting in the temple car park was stunned by the rout, groaning as the third and fourth goals went in and beating the ground with their fists.
The mood was similar at a bar in the city's northeastern Nowon district, where South Korean fans heaved a sigh whenever the Portuguese found the net.
"Oh no!" cried Lee Kyu-Sun, 43. "I did want the North Koreans to beat the Portuguese but my wish was probably too ambitious."
Not everyone was happy at the overt show of support at the temple.
"I want North Korea to win but street cheering could be abused as propaganda to support its regime," Park Sang-Hak, president of Fighters for Free North Korea, told the website of local newspaper the Herald Business before the game.
Others said politics and sport don't mix. "I wish North Korea to win with their strong spirit and passion and I also hope they go through to the round of 16 along with South Korea," said a spokesman for the Korea Freedom Federation."The World Cup must be viewed separately from the political situation," the spokesman told the website.
Meanwhile in South Africa, rows of red clad "north koreans" were seen seated in the stadium during the North Korea-Portugal match. Many were suprised and wondered if the country's regime had allowed its citizens to travel freely to cheer for their national team. However it was later revealed that a group of them were carefully handpicked by the North Korean government and another group were actually Chinese volunteers rooting for their fellow communist neighbour. These Chinese obtained their tickets through a Chinese sports PR agency who was authorised to sell part of the North Korean allocation of 1400 seats. Dubbed the "fans volunteer army", they included dancers, musicians and other artists and said they were happy to don the North Korean national colours.
Although the group of North Koreans sang their national anthem loudly, they only cheered when directed by a man who stood before them like an orchestra's conductor.
In North Korea, the match was beamed live on national TV. North Korea had picked the wrong moment to allow its people to see a bit more of the outside world.
The authoritarian regime was so proud of its soccer team in the World Cup that it allowed an unprecedented live broadcast back home of the match against Portugal — a rarity for the communist nation that normally exerts strict control over the media.
What ensued was a different sort of history: North Koreans, used to seeing only positive news about their reclusive country, watched as their soccer team received the worst drubbing so far in this year's tournament and was prevented from advancing to the next round. As the 7-0 loss to Portugal concluded, the North Koreans quickly halted the coverage.
( Jong Tae Se, the Japan based North Korean star player. He is one of only 3 players to have played abroad. He was seen my millions in the world crying when the country's national anthem was being played).
Dejected and dispirited, the North Korea team quickly left the stadium in Cape Town with heads bowed. Star forward Jong Tae Se dropped to his knees as the game ended. He said he was upset they had made so many errors and apologized to his nation for failing to fulfill its World Cup hopes. The normally loquacious Jong later slipped out another entrance.
After the heavy defeat, many are wondering what would happen to the players when they return home. Some are speculating that the players will be severely punished for 'embarassing' the country. People are worry that these players will be sent to forced labour camp , tortured or even executed in secrecy.
Preparation for the soccer watching event in the temple ground
South Koreans cheering for their northern brothers during the match against Portugal
North Koreans who defected to South Korea cheering their motherland's team
(*I was rooting for the North Koreans too. Making it to South Africa itself is a huge victory for the team which is lacking in everything eg. funds, international exposures and freedom. Hope all of them will be fine after they leave this competition)