I feel the need to warn you now that the 2010 World Cup is going to be a running dialog for most of the next month on this blog. In my last post I tried to explain, probably with very little success, the reason for my enjoyment of the World Cup. Besides the fact that this is the world's biggest sporting event, the atmosphere, and the pride it creates are second to none in the sporting world. This weekend marked the start of World Cup. All the pageantry and hope that marks the open week were on display across the world. It all started with South Africa feeding off of 85,000 Vuvuzela blowing fans which inspired them to an 1-1 tie with Mexico. No host nation has ever failed to advance out of the group stage. Critics point to South Africa potentially being the first nation never to advance.
After the first day which saw little notable matches (except for every match played), my true experience began for the first time. When I last experienced the World Cup I was an outsider marveled by everything. This time, I know how important this is, and I know just how much it means to the countries playing. Saturday June 12, 2010 is a day that I will remember for a long time. Myself, along with several of my friends found our way up to Seoul. We were determined to experience the World Cup in a way that many of us never have been able to before. We went ready to cheer for South Korea, our adopted home. Across the country Koreans assembled in public spaces to cheer for their country. Everywhere you went in the country the game was being displayed. If there was school during the game, they would have stopped teaching so everyone could watch the game.
In Seoul, the largest street parties could be found to watch the game. All across the city, even in the stadiums people were gathering to watch the game. The two largest street gatherings were located at Seoul City Hall and COEX mall. At Seoul City Hall 40,000 people gathered to watch the game in a drizzling rain. At COEX mall there was probably 30,000 people in the rain. My friends arrived at COEX about an hour before the game an in a steady downpour of rain. After purchasing a few parkas we meandered out to find a screen to watch the game. All over the street different companies had set up huge HD televisions to watch the game. We chose one television set up and procured our spot to watch the game from. Now, normally in the United States the people would stand and watch the screen. However, this being Asia, we were in for a special treat, sitting. The reason I call this a special treat is because the screens were set up on a closed road much like a street fair. It was just expected that everyone would show up and sit down to watch the game. Now normally I'm not to wary about sitting on the ground, but when you take an asphalt street, add rain, trash, and grime, I'm not super motivated to sit down. Luckily we were located just at the outer edge and I was able to stand for most of the match.
Once the match started, there was hushed anticipation across the crowd. This was their countries first match, and the expectations were exceptionally high. Then 7 minutes in, South Korea stuck for a goal against Greece. The sheer sound of cheering was deafening. I have been in stadiums of 60,000+ people cheering for a game winning homerun or touchdown. They held nothing to the sheer elation of a goal scored halfway across the world. It was amazing. The rest of the first half went on with moments of joy, panic, and near ecstasy. The spectrum of emotion on display was quite fascinating. When the whistle blew for the start of the second half, the Koreans were ready to continue cheering for their team. Chants of DaeHan MinGuk reverberated throughout the air. Then suddenly Park Ji Sung, the captian/national soccer hero of Korea, stole the ball and struck it home for a second goal. The sound was deafening. Take the winning shot in an world championship, and maybe you'll come close to the sound of an entire nation screaming their heads off. They were ecstatic, and nothing was going to stop Korea. As the game wound down and finally ended, the party truly began. Songs of celebration and parties sprung up simultaneously across the country. People were driving around cheering and chanting and everywhere people were in the mood to party.