By Oh Seok-min
INCHEON, Sept. 29 (Yonhap) -- South Koreans forgot decades-long political tensions, at least for 90 minutes, on Monday, cheering not only their compatriot footballers but those from North Korea waging a battle for a spot in the Asiad final.
The inter-Korean showdown in the semifinal match in South Korea's western port city of Incheon was fierce; South Korea was bent on the seemingly elusive goal of clinching the first-ever Asiad gold in the women's football, while the North aimed to take the title back after eight years in the sport beloved particularly by its "dear leader," Kim Jong-un.
North Korea ended up winning the game 2-1 on a late goal by Ho Un-byol.
South Koreans wave the banner that reads, "One Korea, shoot goal-in for unification" during the inter-Korean women's football match in South Korea's western port city of Incheon on Sept. 29, 2014. (Yonhap)
But no rivalry was found at the grandstands at Munhak Stadium. Albeit in small numbers on a chilly day after heavy rains, spectators chanted with ardor, "Our team, go for it."
"We don't say 'my' team but 'our' team, which means we back the teams of both Koreas," said Kim Jeong-moon, a member of the South-North Korean Joint Cheering Team.
Some 1,100 members from the cheering squad, organized by some 100 civic groups across South Korea, banged thundersticks and waved blue-colored flags bearing the map of the Korean Peninsula, while holding a banner that reads, "One Korea, shoot goal-in for unification."
"True, the sport is supposed to be cold-hearted, but we today have an exceptional case, as we are up against North Korea, which is our brethren country," Kim added.
As the host nation, it is natural for the South to warmly welcome the guests from North Korea, said another member of the cheering squad.
"As I understand it, one of the most crucial roles and goals of the sports is building friendship, and this kind of inter-Korean match is a good chance for South and North Korea to be closer," said 23-year-old college student Sung Sin-hee. "I am happy if any of the teams win."
Some 40 North Koreans, including a handful of athletes competing for other sports and officials, also visited the venue donning the same training uniform and rooted for their players.
"Let's see who will win, but I believe in my players," a North Korean official said, refusing to make further comments.
Asked about how she feels about South Korean people cheering for her team, she simply said with a faint smile, "It's nice."
The North Korean coach, Kim Kwang-min, also saw the South Koreans' cheering for his team in a positive light.
"(Hearing the cheering voices for my team,) I could feel that we are one nation. That also tells me that the hearts of the people in South Korea wish for national reunification," he said during a press conference.
The amicable atmosphere in Incheon on Monday was a stark contrast to a day earlier when the South Korean vied against Japan.
"Yesterday, tens of thousands of people packed this arena, roaring of course only for South Korea, while a small group of Japanese shouted for their team," said Lee Ho-soon, an Asiad volunteer at the stadium. "I could feel some tension here yesterday, but that's not the case today."
On Sunday, South Korea defeated Japan 1-0 to secure a berth in the semifinals of the men's football at the Asiad.
Matches between the regional rivals have often been played under tension, with bitter memories of Japan's harsh colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula still running deep among South Koreans here.
Without exception, the Red Devils, South Korea's official cheering squad for the national team, did what they were supposed to do but expressed hope that the delegation from the communist country "gets what it wants" at this Asian Games.
"We support the South Korean team. That's our job with this serious event," its member Jung Hyun-woo said. "But when North Korea goes toe-to-toe with other countries, we often go to the field and back the team from the communist country," he said. "You know, the skin is closer than the shirt."
North Korean officials and athletes wave to South Koreans who cheered for the teams from the two Koreas during the women's football match at the Incheon Asian Games on Sept. 29, 2014. (Yonhap)