After securing a €100 billion ($133 billion) emergency loan for his country’s troubled banks – disbursed by EU partners – Spain’s prime minister flew straight to Poland. Why? Mariano Rajoy wanted to watch his country’s national football team in its opening match in last year’s European Championship.
The excursion was widely panned by the press, but somewhat vindicated a month later when Spain won the tournament by defeating Italy 4-0 in the final.
“They made millions of Spaniards happy and that’s what matters,” Rajoy said after the match, subscribing to the theory that Spain’s unprecedented feat in winning three major tournaments (Euro 2008 and 2012, plus the World Cup 2010) delivered some crucial feel-good factor to a beleaguered economy.
In fact, the correlation between football and stock market performances is a well-researched topic – even China’s official mouthpiece has joined the school of football economics too.
Xinhua news agency ran an article last week comparing Chinese football with the A-share market. Both, it said, have become the subject of national ridicule. They are the “two games that torture Chinese people most”, it suggested in an article that was widely forwarded online and viewed as a satirical rarity for the state press.
“The worst tragedy in life is to monitor Chinese stocks in the daytime, and to watch Chinese football at night,” a weibo user agreed.
The timing was uncanny too, it seemed. China’s national team had just lost friendly matches against Uzbekistan (beaten 2-1) and Holland (2-0). Both were excusable defeats, albeit in front of a home crowd. But almost immediately after the Xinhua article was published China then suffered a 5-1 hammering by Thailand.
It wasn’t China’s worst ever defeat on the international stage (the 8-0 loss to Brazil last September will take some beating). But it was unquestionably the most humiliating, as far as most fans were concerned. Thailand were playing away from home, ranked 47 places below China and didn’t even field a full strength team (giving players from the country’s under-21 squad a run out).
Defeat on these terms enraged the spectators, who started cheering for Thailand, calling for a sixth goal and hollering to disband the national team as the game reached its closing stages. According to the Oriental Daily News, hundreds of disgruntled spectators then surrounded the team bus after the match and there were also reports of angry fans clashing with police.
“1:5!” an ultra-large headline in the Beijing Evening News read. “The national football team has written a new chapter in its history of shame.” The media was particularly critical of the Chinese team’s lack of fighting spirit, with speculation that the players were deliberately refusing to play for coach Jose Antonio Camacho. The People’s Daily denied such a thing was possible, although most expect the former Real Madrid coach to depart China soon. (Back in WiC118, when Camacho was appointed – to much fanfare – we called it the toughest job in football.)
Worse still, this “darkest day in Chinese football” fell on June 15, the Apple Daily reminded readers. That also happened to be the 60th birthday of Xi Jinping, a football fan who has talked publicly about his dream of seeing China stage the World Cup – and even win it.
“It must be the most embarrassing gift for Xi,” the Hong Kong newspaper quipped.
“Look whose face the national football team is slapping?” the Wuhan Morning Post asked.
Can it get any worse for China’s footballing pride? In its current state of disarray, even the Faroe Islands, San Marino and Liechtenstein would prove formidable opposition for China’s national team…
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