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It's a Korean Cinderella Story

Quarterfinal: Co-host defeats Spain on penalty kicks after scoreless game, becoming first Asian nation to go so far.


SEOUL — The 2002 World Cup, which from the beginning has walked the borderland between fact and fiction, moved ever closer to fantasy Saturday.

Co-host South Korea advanced to the semifinals by defeating Spain on penalty kicks after the teams had battled to a scoreless tie after two dramatic hours.

A fantasy?

It seemed so for the more than 4 million red-clad fans who took to the streets of South Korea's major cities Saturday afternoon and then celebrated late into the night. In Seoul alone, police estimated crowds at more than 2.1 million.

It seemed so for the 42,114, including President Kim Dae-Jung, who packed the World Cup stadium in Gwangju, South Korea, then roared themselves hoarse urging the home team to greater effort.

And it certainly seemed so for South Korean goalkeeper Lee Woon-Jae, who made a crucial penalty kick save against Spanish midfielder Joaquin and then saw Hong Myung-Bo fire the ball past Spanish keeper Iker Casillas to give the Koreans a 5-3 edge on penalties and ignite a nationwide party.

A fantasy?

How else to explain that South Korea, which came into this tournament without a World Cup victory in 14 games over 48 years, is now unbeaten after five matches?

How else to explain that South Korea has become the first Asian team in history to reach the final four and only the second ever--after the United States in 1930--from outside Europe and South America?

"More dreams have come true," said an elated Guus Hiddink, South Korea's Dutch coach who has achieved almost saintly status here. "We will have a little glass of champagne now and what comes tomorrow, comes tomorrow."

What comes tomorrow--or at least Tuesday--is a semifinal game against Germany, which, based on the difficulty it had in beating the U.S., is not an insurmountable obstacle.

"Let's Go to Yokohama" read the massive banner featuring Hiddink's portrait that was unfurled from a tall building in central Seoul after Saturday's success.

The Japanese port city is where the World Cup final will be staged a week from today, and considering the strange way this tournament has unfolded, who is to say the Koreans won't be there?

A fantasy?

Not when South Korea's achievement was greeted by cheers from North Korean soldiers on the other side of the Demilitarized Zone, as Agence France-Presse reported.

Not when Kim, the nation's president, proclaimed Saturday's triumph as the best thing to happen to Korea in 5,000 years.

"This is the happiest day since Dangung and now a new path to national prosperity has been opened," said Kim, referring to the monarch, Dangung, who founded Korea 50 centuries ago.

It might all have gone wrong for Hiddink's team, however, if Spain had taken better advantage of the scoring chances it created or had better luck with the officiating.

There was, for instance, striker Fernando Morientes' shot in overtime that struck the left post and rebounded clear, and the header by Morientes that found the back of the net only to be disallowed because the linesmen--incorrectly, TV replays showed--ruled that the ball had gone out of bounds before Joaquin crossed it to Morientes.

As it was, Coach Jose Antonio Camacho and his players were furious at the way Egyptian referee Gamal Ghandour and his assistants (Ali Tomusange of Uganda and Michael Ragoonath of Trinidad) handled the game, negating two apparent goals.

"I thought the referee would be fairer in a quarterfinal match like this," Camacho fumed.

Morientes, filling in for injured striker Raul, was equally incensed.

"We are talking about the quarterfinals of a World Cup, not a friendly match played just anywhere," he said. "Two goals disallowed, that has never been seen."

Hiddink, however, refuted any suggestions of bias by the officials.

"That is not fair," he said of Spain's claims. "Errors are made--by players, by coaches and by referees and linesmen."

Spain still had a chance when it went to penalties, but South Korea was flawless. Hwang Sun-Hong, Park Ji-Sung, Seol Ki-Hyeon and Ahn Jung-Hwan all connected for the home team before Hong netted the clinching kick.

For Spain, Fernando Hierro, Ruben Baranja and Xavi scored, but Lee saved Joaquin's shot to ruin Spanish hopes.

South Korea rode the red tide of support generated by its fans. The "Red Devils" have turned out in massive numbers to watch games on huge outdoor screens. Almost 10% of the country's population of 48 million was out in force on Saturday, all wearing red.

Sales of the "Be the Reds" T-shirts have exceeded 8 million across the country, making it almost the national costume.

Spain had no way to counter that type of support on Saturday, just as Germany will have no answer Tuesday.

If it is all a dream, it's a fantasy in red.

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