Jubilant Chinese fans cheer for Team China during a World Cup qualifier against South Korea in Changsha, Hunan Province, on Thursday. Photo: Cui Meng/GT
China beat South Korea 1-0 at a World Cup qualifier in the Chinese city of Changsha on Thursday night under heavy security, sending the stadium and fans around country into jubilation.
The victory means China has kept 2018 World Cup hopes alive.
Beijing Guoan forward Yu Dabao headed home Shangdong Luneng midfielder Wang Yongpo's corner kick 10 minutes before halftime.
An estimated 10,000 police officers were dispatched to guarantee security of the group match of the World Cup Asian qualifiers between China and South Korea in Changsha, capital of Central China's Hunan Province.
Over 37,000 people went to the He Long Stadium to watch the game which kicked off at 7:35 pm. But only about 100 South Korean fans came to the stadium, and were surrounded by more than 100 security personnel to prevent any clashes with Chinese fans.
The Chinese national team had three defeats and two draws in its previous group matches. China lost the previous match against South Korea 2:3 six months ago in Seoul.
The Changsha game was played amid tensions between China and South Korea. The local security staff was on high alert due to strains in the Sino-South Korean relationship over the deployment of the US-made Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system in South Korea. The Chinese public started to boycott South Korean products due to the deployment of THAAD, so the anger among the Chinese people toward South Korea added unpredictability to the security of the soccer game.
On Sina Weibo, the hashtag "Opposing South Korea begins from football" received 640,000 clicks before the match began.
On Thursday morning, many police vehicles had been stationed in the area around He Long Stadium and more than 10,000 policemen including armed police in full riot gear were deployed. All fans who entered the stadium were required to show their ID at the gate. Two police helicopters circled around the sports center before the kick off.
An anonymous Chinese team supporter who watched the game told the Global Times, "I have watched a lot of games in China but I have never seen such an atmosphere before."
The Huangxing Road commercial pedestrian street, the busiest section of Changsha, had temporally turned off all of its electronic screens which normally broadcast games during the World Cup, the European Cup and the Olympics. A female employee from the administrative committee of Huangxing Road cited safety reasons for turning off the screens. Changsha Huanghua International Airport also turned off its TV screens during the game.
It is the first time in the last two decades China defeated South Korea in a major competitive match. Chinese football fans hoped that the victory can help Team China shatter a so-called "Koreaphobia."
Before the Changsha game, China met South Korea 33 times in various games in the past decades, and China recorded two wins, 13 draws and 18 defeats.
Despite the tense atmosphere in the stadium, there were no physical clashes between the two countries' fans and no incident occurred throughout the whole game. Chinese football fans celebrated the victory without offending South Korean players and fans.
Before the game, South Korean foreign minister asked the Chinese government to provide extra security measures to protect South Korean fans who would come to Changsha to watch the game.
South Korea sent a working group to Changsha to keep in touch with South Korean fans and the team, and provide assistance if an incident occurred.