SEOUL • South Korean fans rejoiced yesterday and called for national service exemptions after their team went out of the World Cup in a blaze of glory, eliminating defending champions Germany with a shock 2-0 victory.
In one of the great World Cup upsets, Kim Young-gwon and Son Heung-min both scored in stoppage time to put Korea above bottom dwellers Germany on goal difference in Group F.
"We didn't make it to the round of 16... but we sent the world No. 1 packing," said a headline in South Korean daily Dong-A.
Germany went into the game knowing that a win by two clear goals would have seen them into the last 16. But instead it was Sweden and Mexico who advanced after the Scandinavians won 3-0 in the group's other match.
Hundreds of Mexican fans danced and cheered outside the South Korean embassy in Mexico City on Wednesday, thankful for the favour.
From Saltillo to Seoul to the social media world, they saluted the Taeguk Warriors.
"This is far more shocking than our advance to the semi-finals at the 2002 World Cup," wrote one user.
Another added: "Who cares we won't make it to the round of 16? We defeated Germany, the world No.1! It was an honourable exit."
South Korea Prime Minister Lee Nak-yeon joined them, praising Shin Tae-yong's men and tweeting yesterday: "Reality beat our imagination today".
South Korean players swept the most-searched terms on major portals and dozens of online petitions were launched on the presidential website, urging Moon Jae-in to exempt star players, including Tottenham Hotspur forward Son and goalkeeper Cho Hyun-woo, from their mandatory two-year military service.
"I can serve in the military twice if it means that the 50 million citizens of South Korea will be able to enjoy football," wrote one petitioner.
Although the fans were in a state of euphoria, the team had mixed feelings.
Son hailed the victory over the holders as "a dream" but admitted it was tinged with disappointment, while Shin conceded that the outcome left him feeling "a little bit empty" despite masterminding a plan to stun Germany.
The 49-year-old knew the Germans would be vulnerable on the counter-attack and so it proved.
"For two days, we looked at their strategy and felt they'd probably play 4-4-2, adapting to 4-2-3-1. That's what we told the players," he said.
"Although possession would be in their favour, I told them we'd have the opportunities. I told them to take the opportunities and I think it worked in our favour."
At the other end, man-of-the-match Cho made six saves, including stops that denied Leon Goretzka's 47th-minute header and Toni Kroos' 88th-minute strike.
"I've never had a perfect game like this before, all my career," said the 26-year-old. " I wasn't saving all the shots by myself today - other players were also giving me some help. All of the Korea players, and also the head coach, we were playing for the Korean people, we all become one for the Korean people."
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS, XINHUA