World Cup Final Kicks Up Frenzy Around Globe
Game Shows 'Soccer Is the Only Sport Which Makes the Whole World Crazy'
By Maureen Fan
Washington Post Foreign Service
Sunday, July 9, 2006; A12
BEIJING -- A taxi pulled up to the entrance of a leafy city park at 3 a.m. The car's radio crackled with the live broadcast of the World Cup semifinal between Germany and Italy as an announcer cried out in Mandarin the disappointment of a miss.
A few hundred yards away, another voice rose above the trees, mixing with the sound of cicadas.
This time, English blared from speakers in the center of the park as hundreds of Chinese and foreign fans settled in to watch the match on a huge screen. Chinese beer and Italian pizza were served, and a German fan hunched over, muttering, "Nein, nein, nein." Italy went on to beat Germany, 2-0, in overtime.
Even though the World Cup was in Germany this summer, and even though for the first time since 1982 it came down to an all-European final four, soccer fans around the globe have remained captivated by the matches, with millions intending to watch the final between France and Italy today.
"Except America, everyone else all over the world is watching the World Cup. For 20 years, we've been watching," said David Wang, 35, an information-technology manager who was rooting for Germany with his friends Tuesday night. "I've followed almost all the 3 a.m. games, it doesn't matter who, whoever plays best."
In China, which first aired a live soccer match in 1978, passions are strong. A commentator for China Central Television, Huang Jianxiang, apologized to millions of viewers after shouting, "Long live Italy," and, "I don't care about the Australian team," after the Italian team scored a last-minute goal to advance to the quarterfinals last month.
"Soccer is the only sport which makes the whole world crazy," said Sun Wen, a star on the national Chinese women's soccer team who reviews games for Shanghai's Xinmin Evening News. "During the World Cup, almost every light in every neighborhood is on. I remember clearly when I was young, in the early 1980s, so many neighbors crowded in the living room of one family who had a TV set just for a soccer game broadcast."
All month, Chinese fans have gone to bed early and set their alarm clocks for just before 3 a.m. to catch live broadcasts. Most Chinese watch from home, but thousands make a beeline for bars and restaurants.
"The Chinese have an unusual passion for football, even more than the Europeans," said Dario Magri, an Italian who used to coach and manage in Britain and was selling pizza to fans Tuesday. "The other night it was pouring with rain, and they were huddled under the umbrellas. I was on the bench for many years in England. Fans are passionate there, but here, they show the same passion watching it on the box in the middle of the night."
Professional soccer came to China in 1994, bringing exhibition matches and marketing dollars. Chinese players have gone to England to play with clubs such as Crystal Palace and Manchester City. In addition to the Summer Olympics in 2008, China also will host the women's World Cup next year.
"It's like a festival," said Zhang Jing, 26, a television producer who recalled that classmates mourned Italy's loss to South Korea four years ago. "We get to be wild; we get to be mad. I don't think Chinese people have a very outgoing personality, most of us, so it's great to get an opportunity to get away from the routine daily pressure."
© 2006 The Washington Post Company
The rest of the article gives glimpses from Saudi Arabia, India, Mexico and Baghdad.
My contributions re "Soccer World Cup and China" can be found here (quotes in English included) and here. In the latter post, I referred to Mr. Huang Jianxiang, the ... enthusiastic CCTV commentator.