This was a long time coming: finally there’s something to cheer about for Chinese football fans. It’s not a victory, but a respectable draw and – even more important – not a humiliation. With a summer of shame and three straight losses behind them (including the embarrassing 5-1 home drubbing by Thailand), most Chinese fans would have hoped China could somehow just keep their dignity intact at the East Asian Cup now taking place in South Korea. One of the few Chinese fans in the stadium in Seoul for the match against Japan on Sunday night carried a banner reading “Please just respect the national flag”. Yet China did more than merely avoid a humiliation: despite taking an early lead, China fell 3-1 behind before rallying in the last 20 minutes, converting a penalty and then scoring a dramatic late equalizer for a blistering finish. What was most gratifying about the performance was the fighting spirit exhibited by the Chinese side, and the sense of pleasant surprise and contentment was clearly visible on Monday’s front pages in China:
“Me and my buddies are all stunned…”
On June 17 Danwei reported on the Oriental Guardian (东方卫报) from Nanjing describing the Chinese national football team’s 5-1 loss against Thailand on June 15 as a “dagger deep into the heart of every Chinese football fan” (像一把尖刀深深地刺痛每一个球迷的心). Yet on Monday the same newspaper’s front page exclaimed its new-found faith in the national team by using a new meme that’s become popular on the Internet in China: “Me and my buddies believe in the Chinese football team again” (我和小伙伴又相信国足了). The “me and my buddies” part is based on a primary school student’s essay that was uploaded to Weibo in November 2011 but went viral in June this year. One of the sentences that the student used in the essay read “Me and my buddies are all stunned” (我和小伙伴们都惊呆了). The Oriental Guardian is one of many newspapers that used the “me and my buddies” meme on Monday to praise the Chinese team’s performance.
This was the first game in charge for new coach Fu Bo (傅博), who was hired to replace the team’s former Spanish coach who was sacked after the debacle against Thailand. So when Japan established a 3-1 lead, many Chinese fans feared another bad loss was on the way. But then China fought back. Never mind, as the Beijing Morning Post (北京晨报) pointed out, that the Japanese side was really barely a second-string team, or, as the Chongqing Times (重庆时报) pointed out, that the referee seemed to be favoring China slightly – all the Chinese newspapers on Monday were able to revel in the Chinese team’s fighting spirit and refusal to give up.
For the Guangzhou Daily (广州日报), there are two good things that China can take out of the match. The first is that every member of the team worked hard to get something out of the match, yet they did so in a disciplined fashion and within the rules; and the second is that the team displayed good skill and technique to score three goals. Fighting spirit and skill were things (as the paper notes) that were sadly lacking in previous games this year.
After Sunday’s game the official Weibo account of the national team posted the following message:
This is not a moment to celebrate a victory, and certainly does not mean we have achieved any of our goals. But it is progress. We want to say thanks to every fan who supported us through the tough times. For the glory of China and for all the fans, we can only keep fighting to the end.
China has not beaten Japan in football since 1998.
China’s next game in the tournament is on July 24 against South Korea.
Links and sources
Oriental Guardian (东方卫报): 我和小伙伴又相信国足了
Beijing Morning Post (北京晨报): 3比3，我们懂得知足
Chongqing Times (重庆时报): 国足3∶3日本，我和小伙伴们都惊呆了
Guangzhou Daily (广州日报): 永不放弃 终可做到
Wuhan Evening News (武汉晚报): 战斗到底
Chinese national team on Weibo