(LEAD) (World Cup) Over 10,000 gather at Gwanghwamun to cheer for S. Korea | Pages Da

(ATTN: UPDATES with scene in other parts of the country)

SEOUL, Nov. 24 (Yonhap) — More than 10,000 people gathered at Gwanghwamun Square on Thursday to cheer on South Korea in their opening World Cup match against Uruguay.

The crowd was not as large as initially expected, partly because of cold weather, but also because the nation is still reeling from the trauma of a mob that killed more than 150 people during Halloween celebrations in Itaewon last month.

The square was divided into five zones, which were packed with more than 10,000 people by 9pm, an hour before the match was due to start in Qatar. As density increased, police removed a fence covering Zone 5 to allow more space.

“I couldn’t come out to cheer during the World Cup when I was in high school, so this year I really wanted to participate,” said 22-year-old Kim Young-bin. “It’s a little cold, but once the game starts, doesn’t the cold go away with the excitement?”

Hong Ji-ho, a 20-year-old college student who came out with four friends, said street cheering is a unique culture in South Korea and one of the few opportunities for everyone to have a good time together.

“I hope we win 3-0 and go home happy,” he said, laughing.

Some people were dressed in the national football team’s uniform and had headbands shaped like devil horns, a reference to the team’s supporter group, the “Red Devils”.

A band played music on stage and people danced to the beat, and some made noise with their cheers and chants of the country’s name.

Park In-hyung, a 25-year-old college student, admitted that he hesitated to come out because it was only a month ago that dozens of people his age died in the crowd, which made his heart heavy and also worried about going to a crowded place.

“But cheering on the national team with other people in an open space like this is refreshing,” he said.

The bars and fried chicken joints nearby were also filling up with people, although there was still more room than during previous major sporting events.

“It looks like people are ordering food and watching from home,” said 45-year-old Park Geum-jun, who was drinking beer with her colleagues.

In other parts of the country, people flocked to gyms, arenas and other large venues where they could watch the game on a big screen.

Beer and fried chicken were in high demand across the country, with the owner of a fried chicken shop in the southeastern city of Changwon saying he made three times as many deliveries as usual.

A bar owner in downtown Daejeon said he kept getting reservation calls during the day and was fully booked by 5 p.m.


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