By Bill George
SOUTH KOREA have saved the World Cup from anonymity in this part of the world by their success.
Spanish supporters in Gwangju for their quarter-final tie were numbered at about 500 in a capacity attendance of 42,000 and Italian supporters were also dwarfed by the sheer numbers wearing Korea's red in their second-round match in Daejeon.
As few as 500 German supporters were believed to have been at the quarter-final tie in Ulsan against the USA so one wonders how many seats would have been empty had Korea been eliminated.
FIFA officials must be celebrating the certainty the World Cup stadium in Seoul will be packed tomorrow when Korea face Germany.
Interest in the Korean team has sky-rocketed and every other entertainment medium is feeling the pinch with baseball promoters, cinemas, internet cafes and PC salon owners all complaining of a lack of customers whenever Korea play.
It is customary for World Cup merchandise to drop in price as the competition progresses but that is not the case in Seoul where business has been growing so spectacularly many World Cup items are out of stock. Shop and stall owners keep assuring hungry customers fresh supplies are on the way - at increased prices.
The swell of interest was close to exploding when Korea converted all their penalties to eliminate Spain at an excited stadium in Gwangju.
Organisers must be regretting their failure to ensure all Korea's matches were played in the main stadium in Seoul which has a capacity of 64,677. It is the biggest stadium in Asia, bigger than the Yokohama Stadium in Japan where the final will be played on Sunday.
IFA must be hoping Korea will overcome Germany to ensure the final will not be played before a stadium full of complimentary ticket-holders for you can be sure they will do whatever is necessary to fill it.
The Seoul stadium is one of 10 new stadiums built for the World Cup in Korea and it is a beautiful structure, reminiscent of the Stade de France in Paris. It is more intimate than Stade de France, sight lines are without fault and the transport links are excellent.
The stadium in Gwangju where the match against Spain was played was also a beautiful arena but getting there was far more difficult because so many of the 40,000 Koreans who flocked to support the team had to travel from out-lying areas.
The only tickets available on the rail system were for standing-only and it was an uncomfortable four-hour ride. What made it acceptable was the unfailing good manners and good humour of the Korean people.
The train driver made the return more festive still by blowing the hooter to a staccato rhythm every time the train approached a station.
The Koreans have entered into the spirit of the World Cup with more abandon than the Japanese.
They are far less inhibited as a people but still possessed of so much civic pride that photographs in yesterday's newspapers showed young people tidying up the streets where they partied into the small hours when Korea won.
Their work made the job of the council's cleaners much easier and quicker. Upwards of five million people were estimated to have partied all day before outdoor TV screens at 300 sites across the country.
It was a shock to return after a long day in Daejeon and see the area around City Hall Plaza crowded with the last of an estimated two million fans still partying.
The Korean government is planning to declare tomorrow a national holiday and banners and flags appear on the high-rise buildings around Seoul.
“Korea Fighting” they say, “Let’s go to Yokohama”. If they do it would be appropriate if the FIFA officer board gathered at Tokyo's international airport to welcome them. They are already heavily in their debt.