Japan and South Korea fans cheer all Asian final

TOKYO Tue Mar 24, 2009 7:48am EDT

TOKYO (Reuters) - Fans watched on mobile phones, in prisons and in TV stores in South Korea and Japan on Tuesday as the two Asian rivals slugged it out in a World Baseball Classic final that went to extra innings before Japan won 5-3.

Office staff stopped working in both countries to watch a tough fight that highlighted the growing baseball talent in Asia.

Norihisa Sakamoto viewed the game on his mobile.

"I can watch anywhere with this cell phone and can't keep my eyes off the game," said the 24-year-old Tokyo company employee.

The final was also shown on large TV screens in Seoul and Tokyo, with fans gathering at stadiums and straining for a look on televisions tuned to the game at electronic stores.

South Korea's Justice Ministry overturned a day-time television ban to let prisoners in 47 jails and detention centers watch the game that it said in a statement was "about the pride of Koreans."

Activity in South Korean foreign exchange markets ground to a trickle after the game's opening pitch, Seoul traders said.

"Trading was very slow probably because dealers were watching," said a trader in Seoul who declined to be identified.

NINTH INNING

Offices in Seoul erupted in cheers when South Korea tied the game 3-3 in the bottom of the ninth inning but they turned to groans when Japan recaptured the lead, and ultimately the title, on Ichiro Suzuki's two-run single in the 10th.

At one electronic store in Tokyo, fans clapped and chanted "Ichiro" and some cried.

"I came from Kyoto on vacation, stopping here to watch, and this outcome was great," said Hisami Ishibashi, 45, one of hundreds lined up in front of a wall of flat-screen TVs.

After the victory the store cut its prices by three percent while a local coffee shop quickly put up a "Congratulations Japan" sign.

Fans of South Korea and Japan, who played each other five times in the tournament, said the thrilling final was worthy of the excellent talent of the two teams.

"What a tumultuous game. It's even more so because it's between great rivals," said Seoul consultant Kim Sei-ho.

Prime Minister Taro Aso congratulated Japan on winning their second consecutive World Baseball Classic title, saying it "encouraged and thrilled" the country.

(Editing by Tony Jimenez)

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