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S. Korea joy on World Cup Asia day

More than 300 journalists watched South Korea's last training session
More than 300 journalists watched South Korea's last training session  

By Andrew Demaria

BUSAN, South Korea (CNN) -- For millions of football fans in Asia, the World Cup finally kicked off on Tuesday when co-hosts Japan and South Korea took to the field and China made its debut on football's biggest stage.

The pressure on all three teams had been intense ahead of what was being billed as the most important day in Asian football's history, with anxious fans hoping for a good performance from their heroes.

After playing hosts for the first four days of the tournament, Japan opened its World Cup campaign against Belgium in Saitama while South Korea meets Poland in Busan.

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With four minutes to go and the score at 2-2, Junichi Inamoto put the ball in the net only for the effort to be disallowed for a foul earlier in the move. (Match report)

In South Korea, the build-up has been electrifying, sparked by a national fever that has gripped the nation.

Newspaper, television and billboard advertising urges the team to make it to the next round and instructs fans on chants, songs and dances to perform as they cheer the Koreans on.

And the South Korean team lived up to the hype -- beating Poland 2-0 to record their first ever finals victory after appearing in five previous tournaments. (Match report)

Busan's Asiad Stadium was transformed into a sea of red -- the Korean team's traditional color -- for the game.

Coach Guus Hiddink had played down hopes of victory. Before the match he said: "I know the expectations are extremely high, sometimes too high, towards the team. But the team are not anxious to play with that expectation.

"I cannot guarantee a result, no-one can, but I can guarantee that the team will be going until it doesn't have any energy anymore and I can assure you that the team has a lot of energy."

Hiddink -- who at the 1998 World Cup guided the Netherlands to fourth place, including a 5-0 thrashing of South Korea -- told CNN that he had talked to the players about channeling the energy from the fans and the media and using it to their advantage.

"We have not just to deal with the things inside the pitch," he said.

"There's also an outside pitch which may be a lot of attention from the press daily which may be a high exaggeration of expectations so we have to deal with that ... We have to be with our two feet on the ground, but with the two feet on the ground you can do a lot."

That attention was evident even before Hiddink's team went through its training paces at the stadium in front of about 300 members of the media.

The squad entered the arena to the Korean national anthem, performed by famous Korean singer Jo Young Su and a military brass band, in what proved to be a well-timed rehearsal for Tuesday's pre-game festivities.

China debut

The first match on Tuesday kicked off in Gwangju where China made its debut against Costa Rica.

But the dream of victory ended with two second half goals in four minutes -- the first against the run of play and the second as China struggled to regain their earlier confidence. (Match report)

An estimated 80 million Chinese fans tuned in for the showdown, while another 40,000 -- the largest contingent of non-Korean fans and probably the biggest mass exodus of tourists ever from China -- have made the trip to South Korea.

China's coach Bora Milutinovic on Tuesday appealed to the fans for a show of support.

"We need your help. We need you to support us," he told reporters when asked what message he would like to send to the supporters massing in Korea.

"I hope they will support us the whole 90 minutes," he said.

Responding to the massive hype in China over its World Cup debut, the team posted an open letter on the Internet in May pleading with fans not to expect too much.

It faces a tough grouping against Costa Rica, Turkey and South American football powerhouse Brazil.



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