Joel is a die-hard Korea Republic National Football Team fan & photographer who has attended his 3rd FIFA World Cup (2002, 2018, 2022). We are very fortunate to have him featured here on the Tavern for a quick Q&A session, with topics ranging from the matches themselves to meeting players to what it’s like living in Qatar. He took some world-class photos, many of which he has graciously shared with us for this post.
Q: What was your favorite moment this World Cup?
My favorite moment during my World Cup trip was by far the moment we qualified for the Round of 16. Celebrating with Koreans that I just met at the stadium; celebrating after the match outside the stadium with Koo Ja Cheol; meeting lots of former players, celebrities, and YouTubers; celebrating in the streets of Doha and getting congratulated by everyone I walked past.
Q: Were you at the Korea Portugal match? If so, can you share what the moments leading up to, during and after HHC’s game winning goal was like in the stands?
Yes, I was there to witness history at the Korea vs Portugal match.
Leading up to the goal, most Koreans were feeling anxious, hoping for one more goal, cheering louder and louder with every second passing by. The moment Hwang Hee Chan scored, every single Korean and foreigner cheering for Korea (there were quite a lot of foreigners who wanted Korea to upset Portugal) spent a good couple of minutes jumping up and down with joy, crying tears of joy, screaming at the top of their lungs, high-fiving and hugging those nearby (mostly people they’ve just met). From the goal until the final whistle, all you could hear in the stadium was Koreans chanting 대~한민국 and singing 오 필승 코리아 while jumping up and down.
While waiting for Ghana vs Uruguay match to finish, everyone stayed in the stadium on their phones checking the score/watching the match. Chants of “Ghana! Ghana!” every couple of minutes as well.
Q: Thoughts on the other three matches?
vs Uruguay – KNT fought hard, played well, and definitely surprised most people with how we were trying to play “our football” at the World Cup against better opposition. We were outnumbered in the stadium but Uruguay fans hardly cheered or sang after their national anthem.
vs Ghana – probably one of the most exciting matches despite it being a loss. Just like how the players didn’t give up after going down 2-0, 붉은악마 (Red Devils) and all the Koreans in the stadium didn’t stop cheering. Most Ghana fans left as soon as the match ended while celebrating and taunting us. Most Koreans couldn’t leave because how 아까워 the loss was.
vs Brazil – the early scoring by Brazil definitely brought down the mood of the few Koreans who were able to secure tickets to the match, but even while down 4-0 we cheered as loudly as we could and when Paik Seung Ho scored, we didn’t care that we were still down 4-1 but celebrated the goal as if we won.
I also watched Senegal vs Netherlands, Argentina vs Saudi Arabia, France vs Australia, Croatia vs Morocco, France vs Denmark, England vs Wales, Japan vs Spain. Though none were as exciting for me as the Korea matches, it was amazing to see Messi score and celebrate a goal in front of me. Seeeing Saudi upset Argentina was an amazing experience, especially being able to watch star players like Mbappé, Eriksen, Modrić, Kane, and the rest of their squads with my own eyes.
Q: Were you mostly next to Korean fans or foreigners, and what was that like?
The sections that my seats were in were generally near all the Korean fans, but in all 3 group stage matches at least one of the seats next to me were neutral fans.
vs Uruguay – my section was full of Koreans and there was a Mexican-American family from California cheering for Korea to my left
vs Ghana – my section was full of Koreans, but there was a South African fan holding a World Cup trophy and supporting Ghana to my left, a Chinese fan wearing a Panda mask in my row, as well as a rowdy Ghana fan in our section who almost got kicked out by security
vs Portugal – I was in the block next to the 붉은악마 block. There were a few Indian & Arab Ronaldo fans in our section and there was a Brazilian and an American fan cheering for us in the seats next to me.
vs Brazil – I was about 15 rows in front of the 붉은악마 section, so I was surrounded by Brazil fans/neutral fans supporting Brazil and a very few Koreans sprinkled in my area
It was nice that the neutral fans near me who were supporting Korea asked me to teach them some of our chants. It definitely was nice having fellow Koreans next to me or near me, since we could sing and cheer together. Against Brazil, I felt too outnumbered and though I still followed the lead of the 붉은악마, it was much harder to keep it up throughout the entire match when I was a red dot in a sea of yellow.
Q: What kinds of chants were there? I hope there was more than just the Daehanminguk + clapping
대~한민국! 👏🏼👏🏼 👏🏼 👏🏼 👏🏼 (most of the sections with Koreans further away from the official 붉은악마 section only really did this cheer)
아리랑 (surprisingly we sang 아리랑 the most frequently and repeated for a very long time)
오 필승 코리아
👏🏼 👏🏼 👏🏼👏🏼👏🏼 👏🏼👏🏼👏🏼👏🏼 한국!
한국 오~오 오 오. 한국 오~오 오 오. 한국 오~오 오. 한국 오~오 오 오
대한민국 대한민국 대한민국 코리아 (Ode to Joy melody)
Q: Did you get to say hi to or interact with any of our players
I was able to say hi and cheer on each player as they walked from the hotel to the team bus. I was able to get photos with Son Heung Min, Hwang Hee Chan, and Lee Jae Sung. Lee Jae Sung is my all-time favorite player and when the people next to me told him that I came from the USA to support, he came up closer to take a photo with me. Son signed autographs for Korean fans for as long as he could before he had to leave for training, each time I went to the hotel (I don’t collect autographs so I didn’t have anything to get signed, which I slightly regret 😅). I was lucky to meet some of our 2002 legends and former KNT players as well.
Q: Did you notice anything about our team that maybe the news outlets or us plebs watching from home might not have noticed
Not necessarily something about the KNT but something that people watching the broadcasts might not have noticed was how loud we were cheering for the team. I know that Korea vs Uruguay recorded the highest decibel sound in the group stages, but the atmosphere in the Ghana match and Portugal match made me feel like I was in 상암 at the World Cup Stadium, with a lot of Koreans cheering loudly throughout the entire 90+ minutes. We also met 3 hours before the match to cheer outside the stadium before marching to the stadium together.
Q: What did you do in Qatar? Were the restrictions an issue at all? How was the food, and what was the alcohol situation like?
I was in Qatar for 2.5 weeks. I attended a total of 11 matches (at least 1 match in each stadium) while I was there, which really took up most of my time (a lot of walking and waiting in queues before/after the match). On my days off, I went to Team Korea’s hotel to see and cheer on the players, went to the different malls in Doha, went to some museums in Doha or the Souq Waqif market, I did a guided tour of West Qatar where I got to watch Camel Racing practice. I also took one-day trips to Dubai, UAE & Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.
I had no issues with any of the restrictions Qatar had since I don’t drink, though for fans who wanted to, they could go to bars in western hotels or the Fan Festival to drink alcohol (it was nice not having to deal with rowdy drunk fans or have beer splashed everywhere inside the stadium). Most of the food I had there was Middle eastern food like mixed grill meats/lamb chops and shawarmas, along with global fast food chains that had region-specific items (mostly out of convenience/time crunch due to matches).
I was able to eat at Al-Khaima Restaurant which is famous for being a place that the KNT frequently visited on their trips to Qatar. The restaurant was filled with all Koreans and even the servers greeted and thanked us in Korean.
Q: How did you get to Qatar? Where did you stay, was it cumbersome or difficult, and did you feel any culture shock?
Living in Chicago, I had the option to take a 13.5-hour direct flight to Doha, but I took a flight that had a 23-hour layover in London (which allowed me to go visit Stamford Bridge and see some tourist sights like Big Ben, Tower Bridge, and Buckingham Palace), so two flights (Chicago to London and London to Doha) which added up to a total of 14 hours in the air en route to Doha.
On my first night in Doha, I stayed in one of the Fan Village containers (due to flight schedule changes, I needed to add a night but the apartment I booked was unavailable). I arrived at 2 AM and had to walk about 15 minutes from the metro station to the Fan Village, but I just needed somewhere I could sleep before moving to the apartment I booked the next morning. The bed was really hard, but for a night when exhausted from the travel, it wasn’t the worst thing. It had A/C, a mini fridge, a small table with chairs, a bathroom and a shower. One thing I did notice was that there was a lot of sand/dust on the floor and missing blinds on one window.
After that, I stayed in a one-bedroom apartment (with housekeeping service every 3 days) that I booked through the official accommodation portal for the rest of my time in Qatar. It was a lot nicer than I expected, towards the end of my trip, it felt like home. It had a washing machine, drying rack, stove, fridge, pots and pans, utensils, cups, iron and ironing board, hair dryer, A/C in the bedroom, A/C in the living area, couches, a TV with all the channels needed to watch the World Cup, fast Wi-Fi, and friendly and helpful reception desk in the lobby of the apartment building. No complaints about the accommodations I had.
The only real culture shock I had was the prayer times/prayers through the speakers coming from different mosques throughout the day.
Another thing that I couldn’t get used to was the back and forth of what is and isn’t allowed. I think I’ve seen a lot of foreigners complain about how security doesn’t follow the rules that are posted on the wall behind them, absolutely no consistency from one stadium to another and even from one security person to another, but I didn’t want to deal with the hassle of getting lucky with the security person so I decided to leave my main camera in my accommodation and only took my small point-and-shoot camera for the matches.