Chinese emotions run high as FIFA World Cup kicks off in Qatar
By Li Wenhan  ·  2022-11-28  ·   Source: NO.48 DECEMBER 1, 2022
Visitors admire the fireworks on November 21 in Doha as the 2022 Qatar World Cup kicked off (CUI NAN)

As the Qatar and Ecuador players waited in the tunnel of the Al Bayt stadium in Al Khor, Qatar, ready to make their way out onto the pitch for the opening game of the 2022 Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) World Cup on November 20, soccer fans in China got ready to roar.

Despite Doha being five hours behind Beijing, thanks to a more favorable game schedule, fans in China can watch many of the games during primetime.

Though some matches will still take place after the stroke of midnight Beijing Time, the time difference never stops hardcore enthusiasts from watching.

For many Chinese soccer aficionados, staying up for World Cup tournaments has even become somewhat of a ritual over the years.

Three fans of Team Ecuador pose for a picture on November 21 in Doha as the 2022 Qatar World Cup kicked off (CUI NAN)

Bend it like De Bruyne

Qatar World Cup fever has Chinese fans in its grip. Data from online Chinese travel platform Ctrip showed that as of November 11, flight bookings to Qatar from China with departure dates from November 20 to December 18, or from opening game to final, had increased more than 28 times compared with the same period in 2021.

Despite the poor performance of China's national team, the country's love for soccer never seems to waver.

"Team jerseys, scarves, phone covers… I have them all. I've been following the Qatar World Cup since the qualifiers," Jia Haonan, a fan, told Beijing Review.

Hashtags related to the World Cup on Sina Weibo, China's Twitter equivalent, had amassed 320 million views as of November 23, according to the platform's statistics.

Saudi Arabia stunned Argentina with a 2-1 win on November 22, in turn stunning Chinese soccer fans and non-aficionados alike.

"[After the opening half,] Argentina's attacks began to break down as Saudi players continued to play bravely. I'm not surprised by the result," another fan Wang Dong told Beijing Review.

The stunt Saudi Arabia was able to pull explains why people love the sport: the excitement of the game and the emotional roller coaster it can be.

They love soccer not only for the magic on the field but also for the magic that happens off the pitch. Watching a game with friends strengthens the connection with them. Listening to their soccer stories and sharing yours, debating who's the ultimate player—i.e., Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi or Kevin De Bruyne—and feeling that atmosphere of unity when watching the national team play… These are all cherished moments.

A piece on DongQiuDi, an online Chinese soccer fan community, read, "Four years ago [when the Russia World Cup kicked off], I had just had my son. I would watch the live-stream (on mute) as I was changing his diaper in the early hours of the day. Four years later, he can run and kick a ball. My attention has gradually shifted to gas prices, his education, and our family expenses. But when the referee blows his whistle, I'll still cry out as loudly as ever."

Saleh Alshehri (bottom) of Saudi Arabia celebrates after scoring a goal against Argentina (XINHUA)
Lionel Messi (center) of Argentina during the match against Saudi Arabia at the 2022 FIFA World Cup at Lusail Stadium in Lusail, Qatar, on November 22 (XINHUA)

The Chinese dream

China's national team ranks 79th in the world, according to the FIFA Men's ranking released on October 6, a position incompatible with the country's status as the world's second largest economy. Chinese fans celebrated when their country's men's team qualified for the 2002 Republic of Korea (ROK)-Japan FIFA World Cup 20 years ago and shrugged off the defeats as they left the stadium.

This gave birth to the most sarcastic of fans. Online, they quip that "in World Cup history, no single team has been able to defeat China twice," or "China has lost only nine goals in the past 92 years [as the First World Cup took place in 1930]."

And here's another popular netizen story: The Buddha tells people he can grant them one wish. So someone asks him if he can lower the price of a property in China to a more affordable number. The Buddha then frowns and stays silent. The person then asks for something else, namely, "Can you help the Chinese football team qualify for a World Cup?" After a long pause, the Buddha lets out a deep sigh and says: "Let's talk property prices."

All sarcastic jokes aside, fans keep their love-hate relationship with the team, wanting desperately for their nation to succeed. That's why China's national women's team received a flurry of praise on social media after managing to bounce back from two goals down to defeat the ROK 3-2 to win the Asian Football Confederation Women's Asian Cup on February 7.

"This is what the men's team should be doing. Sponsors should be paying the ladies higher wages and the public should give them more attention," many netizens commented, as they were left disappointed after the men's team was defeated by Viet Nam on February 1 in the World Cup 2022 qualifiers.

"I hope Ronaldo wins the World Cup in Qatar and that China (the national men's team) manages to qualify for the 2026 World Cup," Jia said.

A visitor captures a giant FIFA World Cup trophy model in Doha on November 21 (CUI NAN)
A Qatari boy waves the national flag in Doha on November 21 as the 2022 World Cup kicked off (CUI NAN)

Chinese presence

Despite Chinese players not kicking a ball in Qatar over the next four weeks, the country does have an enormous Chinese presence. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying posted a set of pictures on Twitter on November 20

starring Chinese elements spotted at the Qatar World Cup, ranging from construction to technology to cultural derivatives.

Chinese companies are playing a big part in the tournament. According to GlobalData, a London-based data analytics and consulting company, the sponsorship of Chinese companies reached nearly $1.4 billion, surpassing that of the U.S. at $1.1 billion and ranking first in the world.

Lusail Stadium, Qatar's biggest World Cup venue with a capacity of 92,000 spectators, was built by the China Railway Construction Corp.

"Chinese state-owned enterprises were the main force involved in the construction of the World Cup in Qatar, contributing Chinese wisdom and strength to the preparations," Chinese Ambassador to Qatar Zhou Jian told Phoenix Television, a Hong Kong-based Chinese television network, on November 21.

According to the local sporting goods association in Yiwu City, Zhejiang Province, a manufacturing hub for sporting goods, the city has exported nearly 70 percent of all World Cup accessories. From flags to trophies, its manufacturers are busy producing all sorts of goods.

"We now await the final result and we'll begin producing the winner's national flag as soon as we know," Wang Shaohua, a merchant from Yiwu, told South Reviews, a Guangzhou-based biweekly politics and economics magazine. The 2022 FIFA World Cup slogan may be Everything Now, but that winner won't be revealed until December 18. 

(Print Edition Title: Fever Pitch)

Copyedited by Elsbeth van Paridon

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