SEOUL, South Korea - The 60,000 spectators who filled the World Cup Stadium here saved their loudest cheers last night for the spectacle of North and South Korean soccer players holding aloft a large "unification" flag, depicting a blue Korean peninsula against a white field with no line separating the two countries.
As loudspeakers blared the strains of "Arirang," the sentimental Korean folk song that Korean fans relentlessly sang during the World Cup soccer finals in June, the players - the northerners in white, the southerners in red - strode around the field, clutching the flag, as the roars reverberated through the stadium.
It was a fitting end to a match in which winning clearly was not everything, especially since the result - after the North frustrated a series of South Korean attempts to punch through its defenses in the second half - was a scoreless tie. It was the first North-South match in nine years, and the first on Korean soil in 12.
But then, as the North Korean coach, Ri Jung Man, said after the game, "All of the players played for the dream of unification," a theme pressed by North Korean officials ever since the team arrived here two days ago for a match that dramatized moves toward inter-Korean reconciliation.
"I was really happy because the South Korean people also want to reunify Korea," said Ri, clearly impressed by the sight of thousands of fans waving paper unification flags throughout the game.
Among the happiest was Jean-Jacques Grauhar, chairman of the Europe-Korea Foundation, who arranged for the game after leading a delegation from Seoul to the North Korean capital of Pyongyang in May. It was then, he said in a half-time interview, that North Korea's leader, Kim Jong Il, gave his approval for the proposal.
"The problem is not who wins," said Grauhar, when asked about the lackluster first-half play of the South Korean team, whose star players from the World Cup tournament were for the most part playing professionally elsewhere. "At the end of the day, Korea wins."
That sentiment reflected the optimism generated by talks between North and South Korea last month in which the North agreed on a timetable for opening road and rail connections.
Since then, North and South Korean negotiators have agreed on another round of family visits this month at the North Korean resort at the base of Mount Kumkang and exchanged proposals to set up permanent facilities for visits between aging relatives who last saw each other during the Korean War. The North yesterday proposed building a facility at Kumkang while the South suggested facilities at both Kumkang and Dora, the last stop in South Korea on the railway to the North.