Football final brings two Koreas together

October 1, 2014

The players from the two Koreas mingled for souvenir photos after the medal ceremony. (Yonhap)

By Yoo Jee-ho

INCHEON (Yonhap) — On a cool autumn night in South Korea’s western port city, a monumental women’s football victory at the Asian Games created a warm atmosphere of friendship and unity among fans from both sides of an otherwise tense border.

In the women’s football gold medal contest at Munhak Stadium, North Korea defeated Japan 3-1 Wednesday to win its first Asiad title since 2006.

The match was played before hundreds of South Korean fans cheering on the North Korean players, joined by dozens of officials from the North Korean delegation to Incheon.

The South-North Korean Joint Cheering Team, made up of South Korean civic activists, and other fans helped turned the match into essentially a home game for North Korea, their loud chants and banging of thundersticks easily drowning out whatever sounds the Japanese supporters were trying to make.

North Korea opened up a 2-0 lead in the second half, sending the partisan crowd, sensing an easy victory, into a frenzy. Japan quickly cut the deficit in half, but with the fans on the edge of their seats, North Korean forward Ho Un-byol restored a two-goal advantage with a textbook header.

The third goal, which came just about five minutes from the whistle, delivered a jolt through the stands and the fans’ excitement reached its peak when the match ended.

Seated behind the benches, the North Korean officials, decked out in their track suits, waved their national flags, some getting visibly emotional. On the opposite end of the stadium, South Korean fans waved blue flags bearing the image of the Korean Peninsula, and chanted, “We are one” and “Unification of our nation.”

In their celebration, the North Korean players circled the stadium and greeted the fans, with some in the stands also getting teary-eyed.

North Korea had defeated South Korea in the semifinals to reach the gold medal match. On Wednesday, South Korea, relegated to the third-place contest, beat Vietnam 3-0 for the bronze medal.

Players from the two Koreans were reunited during the medal ceremony at the stadium. After the medals were presented and the North Korean anthem was played, the players from the two Koreans mingled for souvenir photos, embracing each other to exchange congratulations for their hard-won medals.

Kim Kwang-min, the North Korean head coach, showed his appreciation for South Koreans’ cheering.

“The South Korean fans gave us such hearty cheers,” the coach said. “From their cheering, I felt that we are all one people, and I could sense the South Koreans’ yearning for unification.”