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Korea's Cup marathon: 'Pride of Asia'

Red Sea rising: South Korea's success in the World Cup finals has stunned commentators
Red Sea rising: South Korea's success in the World Cup finals has stunned commentators  

By Joe Havely

SEOUL, South Korea (CNN) -- Unbeaten until finally overcome by Germany in Tuesday's semi-final showdown, South Korea's storming of the 2002 World Cup finals has elevated Asian football to unprecedented heights.

Ranked 40th in the world, the tournament co-hosts, backed up by their fanatical home crowd following, have become the surprise sensation of the football fiesta.

In more than seven decades of World Cup football no Asian team has ever made it as far as the semi-finals.

On top of that South Korea can take pride in having scored one up on their barnstorming neighbors North Korea -- with whom the South is still officially at war.

In 1966 North Korea stunned the footballing world by advancing to the quarter-finals in England, the furthest any Asian team had progressed.

Beyond the dream

With South Korea guaranteed a place in the 2002 finals by the fact that they were co-hosting the tournament, it was hard to find a commentator who rated the team's chances of progressing beyond the first round.

A month ago few had heard of the Red Devils and the chants of "Dae Han Min Guk" (Republic of Korea) and "Pil Seung Korea" (Victory to Korea) were unknown outside of that corner of Asia.

How far they have come and how much has changed.

Ahead of their first match, South Korea's stated dream was to make it to the knockout second round.

Less than four weeks down the track they have achieved all that and more -- sending home soccer superpowers Portugal, Italy and Spain; dispatching Poland, and scoring a 1-1 draw with the U.S.A.

In doing so they easily left behind fellow Asian finalists Saudi Arabia and China -- both of whom lost all their initial group matches -- as well as tournament co-hosts Japan, who were knocked out by Turkey in the second round.

By the end of their run the Red Devil's banner cry "Pride of Asia" had been well earned.



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