China and its influence at the World Cup in Russia
Chinese fans watch a World Cup match from a bar in Beijing.jpg

Beijing, China - Jun Tang was 14 when he was first inspired to attend the football World Cup.

He remembers his high school headteacher cancelling afternoon classes so that students could watch China's World Cup debut in 2002.

"It was a big deal because cancellation of classes rarely happened," Jun told Al Jazeera.

The teacher even brought his own TV from home because, at that time, we didn't have one."

That was the only time China ever featured on the football field in a World Cup. The team failed to score a goal, conceded nine and lost all three matches. Despite the poor show, Jun and his friends were still impressed.

"It was their first time in the World Cup. We were just happy to see them there."

Now 31, Jun is an artificial intelligence (AI) engineer at a major Chinese tech firm. He is in Russia, watching the World Cup in person for the first time.

"I'm a football fanatic and going to the World Cup is like a religious pilgrimage for me. My life as an AI engineer can be dull but watching football and playing football adds colour to it." 

China's football fervour has not been dampened by its national team failing to qualify for World Cup 2018 or its FIFA rank, which languishes at 75, behind Syria and El Salvador...

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Published 3 July 2018