Third place: icing on the Reds' cake

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 29 June, 2002, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 29 June, 2002, 12:00am

South Korea's patriotic spirit and unity will enjoy a final fling tonight as the national football team aim to achieve what no one could have ever predicted when it all began.

A third-place finish in the World Cup would top off what has already been one of the most stunning performances by a team in the history of the competition.

They have a good chance of beating the Turkish team, who are probably still reeling from the emotional and physical drain of their semi-final loss to Brazil on Wednesday night.

Whatever the result, the fairy tale sports drama that transfixed the nation will not be forgotten.

'The most direct impact of the team's success will be the knock-on effect it has on the potential of future Korean football teams,' said Oh Joon, a student in the United States who is back in Hong Kong for the summer.

'So many young Koreans look up to these players, they are more than heroes,' said the 20-year-old.

First-round wins over Poland and world No 5 Portugal came either side of a 1-1 draw with the US as the South Koreans topped Group D.

Upsets over Italy and Spain followed in the second round and quarter-finals. Shrugging off questionable refereeing decisions, the South Koreans rolled into the semi-finals only to be stopped by the Germans.

But the effect of the team's performance will go beyond sport culture, students said.

'The patriotism has been incredible,' said Kim Do-hee, a 20-year-old studying at Polytechnic University.

'This whole experience has raised the confidence of Koreans,' said Brian Choi Bum-sik, 20, who studies in the US.

Although tonight's match is significant, there won't be the same level of feverish support evident at the Harbour Plaza North Point Hotel on Tuesday night, when South Korea played Germany in the semi-finals.

There, 1,200 Koreans living in Hong Kong gathered with painted faces and waving flags, rhythmically beating traditional drums and singing themselves hoarse. Despite the loss, the fans were still overwhelmed with pride.

Korean students at South Island School, who had 'Be The Reds' T-shirts and South Korean flags, said they would support the team tonight at home. 'We're not disappointed, we did great, and we'll get third place now,' said Kim Lima, 17.

Yu Seung-min, 25, said: 'We played so well and I'm really happy because even though we lost. Korea has won in many ways.'

Graphic: WCYPGES