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Ecstatic Fans in Koreatown Celebrate Soccer Win

June 23, 2002|JESSICA GARRISON and ERIKA HAYASAKI | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

When the South Korean soccer team beat Spain on Saturday morning, 5,000 ecstatic fans in red, who had gathered in a parking lot in Koreatown to watch the game, danced in circles, waved flags and sparklers, screamed, kissed and hugged.

"Go Korea! Go Korea! Go Korea!" screamed Patty Nam, 54, who was jumping up and down. "I feel great. It's marvelous. Oooohhh."

"I am so happy and proud," said Seok Kyun, a traffic volunteer who stood in the middle of 6th Street after 2 a.m. "Nobody thought Korea could do it."

South Korea, the co-host of the World Cup in Asia, upset Spain 5-3 in a penalty-kick shootout after a 0-0 tie. South Korea, which has not won a game in five previous World Cup competitions, is the first Asian team to ever reach the semifinals. The team will play Germany on Tuesday in Seoul.

Early Saturday morning, more than 5,000 people sat in orderly rows watching the game on big screens at 6th and Kenmore Avenue in Los Angeles. Local businesses served free coffee, and children slept on their parents' shoulders. When Korean players tumbled, the crowd let out a collective moan. When they got back up, everyone cheered and clapped as if they had scored. Area bars were also filled with fans wearing red, while 3,000 people had gathered inside the Koreatown Galleria, at Olympic and Western.

"We're painting the town red," said Veronica Lee, 32, a marketing representative for the Galleria, referring to the Red Devils, as the Korean team is known. She watched the game at the Galleria. "I'm rooting for the Korean team. I want them to hear my roaring voice all the way in Korea."

The game began about 11:40 p.m. Friday night and ended about 2:15 a.m. After it ended, thousands of fans celebrated and soon left the area, after picking up their trash.

"We couldn't believe it," said Scott Koegel, a Los Angeles Police Department traffic officer. "The street is going to be cleaner than when they got here."

An LAPD spokesman said Saturday that no arrests were made during the morning celebration.

For blocks around Koreatown, traffic was stopped and people sat in their cars honking their horns.

On Saturday afternoon, the Koreatown Galleria was still a sea of red. South Korean soccer fans spent the day eating lunch and shopping while wearing red T-shirts, hats, tank tops and bandannas.

Others read the Saturday editions of the Korea Times, the Korea Daily and the Daily Sports Seoul USA, all of which had stories about the South Korean soccer team's win on their front pages.

By noon, Tee-ffany, a sports memorabilia stand in the Galleria, had sold out of Red Devil T-shirts, with the words: "Be the Reds." A saleswoman at the store said customers had snatched up more than 2,000 shirts and 500 flags since Friday. Meanwhile, the Galleria had distributed 3,000 free T-shirts.

After a night of celebration that lasted until 5 a.m., Peter Won, 23, of Los Angeles and Ryan Lee, 23, a student at UC Berkeley, were back at the Galleria buying flags to mount on their cars. They planned to cruise around town all day continuing the jubilee.

"We want to represent our country and show our pride in Korea," said Won, who has been in the United States for 10 years. "They're going to win the semifinals, no doubt. They're going to take it all the way."

Lee, who moved to the U.S. seven years ago from South Korea, said the World Cup has given natives a chance to express their love for their country.

Veronica Lee said she is moved by South Korea's win because it has united Koreans from all over the world.

"I was so happy, I was jumping up and down uncontrollably," she said. "But this morning, as I drove around, I still saw the flags and people honking. Tears came to my eyes."

Lee said it is an exciting time for Koreans, and even if the team loses, "it's party time for all of us."

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