BSP-27 The World Cup dreams of Chinese football fans

ZCZC

BSP-27

FOOTBALL-WC-CHINESE-FANS

The World Cup dreams of Chinese football fans

FUZHOU, July 13, 2018 (BSS/XINHUA) – How can a FIFA World Cup remain
popular in a country whose national team hasn’t qualified for the tournament?
Chinese football fans may be well placed to answer that question.

The absence of the Chinese national team from this summer’s tournament in
Russia hasn’t dampened the enthusiasm of the country’s football fans, many of
whom still dream of the day their heroes will once again feature in the
tournament, with many more harboring aspirations for China to one day host a
World Cup.

WHY ARE THE CHINESE HERE?

Chinese fans were able to watch the World Cup on TV for the first time in
1978, after the country began its policy of reform and opening up. At this
summer’s World Cup four decades later, Chinese fans purchased more than
40,000 tickets and seven Chinese companies sponsored the competition.

Chen Gang was one who made the trip to Russia. The moment he landed in the
country, he began to post pictures on the social network Wechat.

“Many of my friends are jealous about my travels, joking that I’m a
nouveau-riche “Tuhao”,” Chen smiled, “The four-day trip, including tickets to
see Argentina vs Iceland and Germany vs Mexico, cost me 15,000 Yuan (2,250
U.S. Dollars). But I’m OK with the price and satisfied with the trip.”

“On streets, in bars, in stadiums, I could see the red Chinese national
flag everywhere,” added Chen. “As the popular internet saying goes, everyone
in China has come to the World Cup except the national team!”

The Chinese team has only qualified for the World Cup finals once, in 2002.
On that occasion, China lost all three of their group matches without scoring
a goal. Given such a poor record on the world’s biggest stage, Chinese fans
tend to be self-depracating about their national team.

Zeng Yiming, a Chinese e-commerce entrepreneur, was so excited about his
World Cup trip that he kept a diary documenting the occasion. At the
Argentina vs Iceland match, he displayed his split loyalties:

“I couldn’t cheer for my home team so I painted the national flags of both
China and Argentina on my face, which seemed a bit embarrassing. Many
Argentine fans asked me why the Chinese are here.”

After the game between Germany and Mexico, he wrote:

“There were four disabled Mexican fans sitting on the chairs behind me.
They hugged each other, and cried out aloud “Mexico, Mexico!” I was so
touched, thinking how I would react if China beat the defending champions.
That joy, once in a lifetime, would be enough for me.”

GROWING WITH THE WORLD CUP

China’s first attempt to qualify for the World Cup can be traced back to
1957, eight years after the People’s Republic of China was founded. But in
the qualifiers for the 1958 World Cup in Sweden, China was knocked out by
Indonesia in a two-legged tie.

29-year-old Zhang Xuebin, a descendant of overseas Chinese residents, told
Xinhua that his father, uncle and grandfather attended that game at the
stadium in Jakarta, cheering for the visiting Chinese team.

China lost that match 2-0, and although they won their home leg 4-3, it was
not enough for China to advance.

Now working at a soccer school in Southeast China’s Fuzhou city, Zhang has
inherited his family’s passion for the sport.

Many Chinese fans’ first taste of the World Cup came in 1978, when the
games were broadcast in the country for the first time. The famous Chinese
novelist and folk artist Feng Jicai belongs to that generation. At that time,
he was living in the dormitory of the People’s Publishing House in Beijing,
writing his first full-length novel, China and the Boxers.

“There was only one color TV set in all the dorms. We gathered there at
night and watched the games,” recalled Feng. “The brightest star was Mario
Kempes, who scored two goals in the final and helped Argentina win the
tournament.”

For Feng Xia, a football fan born in the alleys of Tianjin, the 1982 World
Cup in Spain came at a difficult time, as he was preparing for the national
college entrance examination.

“My parents didn’t allow me to watch it. I moved the little TV set out of
the house and watched the games with the neighboring boys,” he recalled. “We
even bet on the result with the forfeit of a bowl of wonton, cheap but nice.
That night was so sweet and I thought I would be addicted to the games for
the rest of my life.”

Having watched 10 World Cups over 40 years, Feng Jicai has special memories
of the France tournament in 1998, which occurred as he was a football
columnist for a Tianjin newspaper. His writings have since been collected and
published in a book.

“I was 56 years old at that time, with strong passion and enthusiasm. I was
always inspired by the game and many words of wisdom were in those lines,”
said Feng.

Two of his essays have been selected for school textbooks. One is called
“The Spirit of Soccer” and the other is entitled “The National Glory”.

THINGS CAN BE PERFECT IN DREAMS

The 2002 World Cup remains a special tournament for Chinese fans, as it is
the only time that China has featured in the 88-year history of the
tournament.

Zhao Junzhe, a member of China’s 2002 World Cup squad, told Xinhua that he
felt sad hearing people talk about their team all the time, because it
underlines the fact that the current national team is not doing well.

“One of my shots hit the post in the game against Brazil, which we lost 0-
4,” Zhao frowned, “If people talk about it every time the World Cup comes
around, it means we have not made any progress.”

Feng Xia believed the 2002 squad was the best China has ever had, even
though the team came in for plenty of criticism from the media and public.

“We had many great players playing in the European leagues. Yang Chen was
the star striker at Frankfurt in the Bundesliga, and Sun Jihai played for
Manchester City in the Premier League for six seasons. Our team used to be
very tactical, but we changed things too frequently to maintain a stable
team. I don’t know the team’s current style. I just feel anxious when we
lose.”

Zeng Yiming was impressed by a Chinese slogan nearby the stadium in Moscow,
reading “When will we make it into the World Cup finals?”

“I hope it won’t take long. China is making astonishing progress in almost
every area these days. Football shouldn’t be an exception. We don’t need
complaints, we need a strong will to make our team good,” said Zeng.

China hosted the Summer Olympics in 2008 and will host the Winter Olympics
in 2022. Many football fans hope the country will soon also host the World
Cup, but their only concern is whether the home team would disappoint their
audience.

68-year-old football commentator Huang Zixian believed it was the Chinese
fans’ dream to see the World Cup in their homeland.

“It would be so exciting to see China’s performance if that day comes,”
said Huang, “I would definitely go to the stadium and cheer for them, as long
as I can still move, no matter how old I’ll be!”

Asked when China might one day lift the World Cup trophy, 76-year-old Feng
Jicai hesitated for a second. “We’d better put that in dreams where
everything can be perfect.”

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