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Tuesday, 4 June, 2002, 23:29 GMT 00:29 UK
Half a billion hopes dashed
Chinese fans watch the Costa Rica game in a mall
The country held its collective breath

Outside the workers stadium in Beijing the crowd of rowdy soccer supporters were in full voice.

A great afternoon lay ahead. Their bosses had given them the day off, the beer was flowing and the sun shone down at a blistering 38C.


This is about national pride, about China being recognised by the world

Young Chinese fan
On a huge television screen on the north side of the stadium China's football team could be seen taking to the field in South Korea.

A huge cheer went up as the ten men from China walked out take their place in history. This was China's moment. After 44 years of trying it had finally arrived at the World Cup finals.

In the stadium in Kwanju 40,000 Chinese fans drowned out their Costa Rican rivals. Across China, half a billion more were glued to their TV screens. For China this was more than mere football.

"This is about national pride, about China being recognised by the world," one young supporter told me.

"We have joined the World Trade Organisation, we are going to hold the Olympics, and now we are at the World Cup. These are three huge things for China."

Little to cheer about

It perhaps explains the wave of excitement that has spread across China.

Chinese fans watch the game broadcast on a giant screen
The second half brought disappointment to the masses
Because when it comes to mere football China has very little to cheer about. Its team ranks lowest of any taking part in the World Cup finals. Even before today's match few gave China any chance of getting through to the second round.

But if China was to achieve anything it would be against tiny Costa Rica, a country of less than four million, against the most populous nation in the world. Surely China could beat them?

The answer came shortly after half time. A deathly silence suddenly fell across the crowd. Disbelief! Costa Rica had scored.

A few minutes later the central Americans slammed another into the back of China's net. Outside the workers stadium the silence was now deafening, punctuated by a few well chosen Chinese curses from the now well lubricated crowd.

Pessimism

By the time the final whistle blew the crowd was deeply despondent. They quickly drifted away, leaving a trail of beer bottles behind them. Some tried to put a brave face on it.


The Costa Ricans were much better than us - the difference was huge, we deserved to lose, we have no hope now

Chinese fan
"They tried hard," said one young woman, her face painted in the colours of the Chinese flag. "We should still have faith in the players. May be they will do better next time. Come on China!"

But others were much more pessimistic.

"The Costa Ricans were much better than us," another man told me. "The difference was huge, we deserved to lose. We have no hope now."

That is probably closer to the truth. Mighty Brazil are their next opponents, followed by another tough game against Turkey next week.

Any hope of China qualifying for the second round of the World Cup must now be all but gone.


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 MEN'S FINAL PREVIEW
Ronaldo won the World Cup and the Golden Boot
 LINEKER'S VERDICT
Gary Lineker

See also:

04 Jun 02 | China v Costa Rica
04 Jun 02 | Asia-Pacific
04 Jun 02 | Asia-Pacific
28 May 02 | Asia-Pacific
31 May 02 | Asia-Pacific
04 Jun 02 | China v Costa Rica
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