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Women's World Cup: The Story of South Korea

South Korea made it through to the round of 16 from Group E and they did it in dramatic fashion against European powerhouse, Spain by a score of 2-1. For both teams, a win would have secured them a spot in the round of 16 but a tie would have eliminated them both. It was all or nothing. South Korea was the dark horse in this game never having won a Women’s World Cup match in their history. France proved to be too much for the Koreans and they did not advance to the quarterfinal round. But this is an improvement for the women’s program. The last time they had qualified for the tournament was 12 years ago and as Koreans will tell you, “we were not a strong team. We just had a miracle to go to this World Cup.”

Soccer in Korea is popular, “but just among men” says Jihyun (Regina) Park and “not as popular as baseball” chimes in Jong Un Jang. People will take in the odd soccer game at the stadium but Seongrae Kim says “the main purpose is not to watch the game. Just hanging out.” So I ask about women’s soccer. Jang pauses, “I think I heard about a women’s league. It’s called WK League. It’s different because K League teams are professional teams. WK League is not professional. They are amateur.”

Jung Hyun Park was sitting in the Korean supporters section for the match in Ottawa. “I have never been to a soccer stadium. This was my first time so I didn’t know anything. And so I was just sitting in my chair and I thought ‘Oh, there are a lot of people coming. And all of them are Korean!’” The Korean supporters section was located high in the stands taking over at least two sections. A giant Korean flag unfurled and covered them through the anthem. You could hear them all across the stadium as their drummers and capos led the crowd in chants and songs through the entire match. If it sounded rehearsed, it’s because it was. “In Korea the government sends some people to cheer for our teams so maybe there are around 500 Koreans in the same section. They have a lot of cheers and flags and drums. The government pays all of the fees, the plane, and we have a lot of red t-shirts and things that we share with foreigners and they join us and sing.” Jang knows the group well, “They are official supporters of the Korean National Team. We call them Red Devils.”

The Korean goals took everyone by surprise and no one could believe that the team were about to win their first every World Cup match against Spain. “At the beginning of the second half I felt that we would lose because I read that Spain is so strong. But our team was working together and Spain made mistakes. When Soyun Cho scored I didn’t believe that” Seongrae says. Jang agreed, “even though we were winning I couldn’t accept it and I was so nervous because we always give up a goal from our opponents near the end of the game.” Park said that the supporters section was anxious for the match to end, “Every time that the ball was in our area the Spanish player’s face was like ‘I will destroy you!’ All of them went to the attack. And then the Spanish free kick at the end of the second half, one woman she almost cried!”

The next day, Park, Jang and Seongrae actually ran into the team in the city. “We were walking around on the street and some people were wearing the team jackets with the marks of Korea so we thought ‘are they…?’ And we got close to them and one of them said, ‘Yes, we are!’ And we said, ‘We are cheering for you! Please win!’ And then they left. And then we thought we should have done more like take a picture!” Jang was left a bit star-struck, “And we saw Soyun Ji, the best player of Korea!”

People seem to think this World Cup is a stroke of luck for the Korean Women’s Team. Regina says most people won’t be surprised that the team didn’t advance past the round of 16 “for the team and for the people related to the team, they might be proud but for ordinary people they just think ‘Oh ok. I knew it’” But Jang was hoping for a win, “Actually I don’t expect too much but I really want the Korean national team to win against France.”

Even though this is the end of the tournament for the South Korean women, the win against the Spaniards will draw more attention to women’s soccer in Korea “More people will focus on women’s soccer now because they won against Spain. They will see it on the news.” Regina hopes the attention will result in an improvement in the women’s program, “I would like the government to give more subsidies to women athletes, not only for men. It is going to be more improved.” And Park would love to see the game become as just popular as the men’s soccer. “Although, women’s soccer in Korea is not famous now, I hope the Women’s World Cup can become more famous now, like the men’s.”