64,375 fans welcomed at South Korean men's World Cup qualifier amid soaring Covid-19 cases

    A general view during the match between South Korea and Iran at Seoul World Cup Stadium on March 24, 2022.

    (CNN)March 24 was a day to remember for South Korean football fans and players.

    The men's national team had gone more than 11 years without beating Iran but that streak ended on Thursday when it won 2-0 to move top of its World Cup qualifying group.
    And the moment was witnessed by 64,375 fans at the Seoul World Cup Stadium, the most spectators welcomed at a sporting event in South Korea since the pandemic started.
      South Korean captain Son Heung-min and defender Kim Young-gwon each slotted home and celebrated their goals in front of the fans who were all strictly wearing masks.
        "I haven't seen a crowd of 60,000 people recently, and preparations for the game were festive, so I felt the atmosphere was hyped up even at the stadium gate," South Korean fan Won Jong-in told CNN Sport. "Of course, the game was good, but I think it's fair to say that fans were feeling the vibe. It was inspiring to see lit Red Devils headbands filling the stands!
        "It was a really good game. I don't remember the last time I smiled and jumped, watching national team's games recently. It feels as if I've been to a festival."
        In a post-match interview aired on TV, Son said he had missed laughing and enjoying the game with the fans.
          "So many fans came [to the game] at a late hour on a weekday, helping us to play a good game," Son said, thanking the spectators for filling the stands.
          South Korea's Kim Young-gwon celebrates his goal in front of fans.

          Limited spectators

          Spectators held up colored cards to spell "We missed you" before kickoff -- something prepared by the Korea Football Association (KFA) to mark the return of a large crowd.
          KFA said they chose the statement to express the emotions of both the fans and players after the pandemic had forced a cap on the number of spectators able to attend matches.
          When Covid-19 first struck the country in 2020, South Korea had banned spectators entirely from sporting events.
          The K-League was among a handful of football leagues that played behind closed doors after the world game was largely shut down.
          The country had managed to keep its total Covid-19 cases relatively low until the highly transmittable Omicron became the dominant variant in January 2022.
          As the variant spread fast, health authorities decided to focus on minimizing critical cases and deaths instead of dedicating its resources to curbing the number of total infections.
          The country's infection total since the pandemic began surpassed 10 million on Tuesday, meaning roughly one out of every five South Koreans have now been infected at some stage of the pandemic.
          But the country has stopped using vaccines passes, which were required to enter public facilities including sporting events, and will scrap the seven-day mandatory quarantine for fully vaccinated international travelers starting April 1.
          As the measures eased, health authorities allowed up to 299 people at sporting events but added that related ministries could grant permission for gatherings of 300 and more.
          On Thursday, 64,375 fan