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Seoul: City Greets Soccer's Best

To understand the magnitude of the World Cup in South Korea and in Seoul, all you need to do is follow the U.S. World Cup Team on a quick journey from their hotel to their training field.  In traffic, the journey can easily take 60 minutes.  With a police escort it takes 20.

As the police escort turns out of the hotel, you cross a bridge – and on the bridge is the flag of each team participating in this year’s World Cup.  Then you pass the Seoul Olympic Stadium, where the seed for the 2002 World Cup was planted in 1988. 

On your left you see the 2002 FIFA World Cup World Folk Festival, a mass of tents, stages and grass that stretches for nearly a mile and a half between the highway and the Han River. 

You look across the river and see France’s training facility and huge soccer ball balloons floating above the stadium.  These balloons can be seen all over the city, with more and more popping up each day as the opening game approaches.  On a clear day the balloons can be seen from more than a mile away.

After driving under the largest floating soccer ball balloons you’ll ever see, you look off to the side of the road and you see a 200-yard flower bed shaped into a soccer ball and the official World Cup logo.

Then you arrive at Misari Practice Stadium, where the U.S. Men’s National Team is training for the World Cup. 

The excitement and buzz surrounding the World Cup in Seoul has helped the U.S. team feel a part of this World Cup.  In the hotel lobby players are approached for autographs, they leave their hotel and they can see and feel the frenzy leading up to the opening of the World Cup.  Just outside downtown Seoul, the U.S. team and the surrounding atmosphere is a world away from a quiet vineyard in France. 

Go into many of the restaurants in the city and you’ll see waiters and waitresses dressed up in full soccer uniforms.  While waiting to catch the subway, riders are shown a commercial with Korean National Team images flashing on the screen set to the Queen classic, “We Are the Champions”

"Our time in Korea has been fantastic,” said Earnie Stewart.  “The training facility is excellent, the hotel is great, and the Korean people have been extremely gracious.  So far its been a great experience." 

The excitement in this city is contagious.  And after South Korea’s brilliant play in a 3-2 loss to defending World Cup champs France on May 26, the entire city seemed to catch World Cup fever. 

In that match last week, the atmosphere in Suwon was vibrant and helped push the Korea National Team to one of their best performances in years.  The Red Devils, as the Koreans fans are called, could make any European nation proud.  They have adopted the slogan, “Korea Team Fighting,” and clad in red the die-hard supporters stand, sing, shout and chant for 90 minutes.  When the U.S. faces Korea in Daegu on June 10, the American players are expecting to face a home team spurred on a punishing wall of sound emanating from Daegu World Cup Stadium.

While Japan has the honor of hosting the final game, Korea will host the World Cup opener (May 31) and the third place game (June 29) and 30 matches in between. 

The 32 matches in Korea are split between 10 venues, with no venue hosting more than four matches.  The Seoul World Cup Stadium will be open longer than any other venue.  After playing host to the opening game on May 31, the stadium will host Turkey - China on June 13 and then close with a semifinal match on June 25. 

The U.S. will play in Suwon at Suwon World Cup Stadium (capacity: 44,047), in Daegu at Daegu World Cup Stadium (68,014) and in Daejeon at Daejeon World Cup Stadium (42,176).