Korea’s final World Cup loss disappoints L.A. fans

June 26, 2014
Fans watch the Korea v. Belgium match in the front lawn of Wilshire Park Place in Koreatown on Thursday. (Park Sang-hyuk / The Korea Times)

Fans watch the Korea v. Belgium match in the front lawn of Wilshire Park Place in Koreatown on Thursday. (Park Sang-hyuk / The Korea Times)

By Tae Hong

World Cup viewing parties continued around Los Angeles’ Koreatown Thursday as Korea bowed out of the tournament after a 1-0 defeat against Belgium.

Fans gathered at Wilshire Park Place, Koreatown Plaza, Koreatown Galleria and Tom’s Urban at L.A. Live for the third time this month, spirits up despite a devastating 4-2 loss to Algeria on Sunday.

At Tom’s Urban, a few dozen fans cheered through a red card given to Belgium’s Steven Defour during the first half, hopeful for a miraculous win that would overcome the slim chance of the Korean team advancing to the round of 16.

But Jan Vertonghen’s goal at the 77th minute, paired with unsuccessful goals by the Koreans, dampened the mood.

Jerry Won, president of the Red Tigers, a group of 1.5- and second-generation Korean American sports fans who gather to watch games together, said he co-founded the organization with Paul Kim, another avid fan, in 2010 for the South African World Cup.

They’ve held viewing parties for both baseball and soccer games ever since.

“For a lot of us, it started in 2002, when we had a magical ride,” Won said. “I think that really helped Korean Americans here identify with their Korean heritage.”

In 2002, South Korea, which co-hosted the tournament with Japan, made it to the final four, the first Asian team to do so in World Cup history. Thursday’s game, however, showed that Korea is not the same team it was in 2002, or even in 2010, when it managed to advance to the round of 16.

Chris Sherman, 27, said he’d come out to Tom’s Urban to watch all three matches.

“It’s disappointing, but we’re young, so hopefully they get their experience here and next World Cup, we’ll see a different outcome,” Sherman said.

The South Korean squad was the fifth-youngest team in the Brazil World Cup, with an average age of 25.7, a difference of almost three years with the oldest average-age team, Argentina.

Another fan, Hanna Park, 26, said she had nothing nice to say about the Korean team.

“We’ve been doing really bad all the games, so I didn’t have any expectations,” Park said. “They just weren’t as aggressive as all the other teams.”

Still, Won said he feels the viewing parties are, after the 2002 World Cup, another way for Korean Americans to identify with Korea.

“I think it’s healthy and it’s fun,” he said. “I think the fact that we do something like this, it helps the next generation of Korean Americans. We’re teaching the younger generation that it’s OK to be proud to be Korean.”