A very classy kickoff

By SHI FUTIAN | China Daily Global | Updated: 2023-04-18 09:51
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After more than two years of renovation and reconstruction, Beijing Workers' Stadium opened its doors with the Chinese Super League clash of Beijing Guo'an and Meizhou Hakka in front of a sell-out crowd on Saturday. WEI XIAOHAO/CHINA DAILY

Electric atmosphere

Indeed, a home victory would have made for a perfect day for fans of the capital club. Guo'an, though, just failed to deliver a result to match the occasion.

Guo'an head coach Stanley Menzo claimed in the post-match news conference that the host was unlucky not to emerge victorious. The Dutchman added that whoever visits Guo'an's impressive home will be motivated to beat his squad.

Menzo even thanked the workers who built the arena, which was constructed on the site of the demolished Workers' Stadium. He said the best way to repay those workers — and the fans — is with victories.

The 59-year-old said he had goosebumps when Zhang Xizhe ran toward the cheering fans in the stands after scoring from the penalty spot, and he urged his team to keep repeating those magical moments this season.

The feel-good factor of opening weekend comes as a timely boost for Chinese soccer. Clubs have been beset by a litany of financial problems in recent years which were compounded by the challenges presented by the pandemic.

The domestic game is also reeling from a series of corruption investigations over the last year, allegedly involving a number of Chinese Football Association and CSL officials.

But while there was an undeniable feeling of hope and starting afresh over the weekend, the CSL still has a long way to go to return to the levels of prestige it once enjoyed.

With the end of Chinese soccer's big-spending era just before the pandemic arrived, the league can no longer rely upon expensive foreign players to boost its profile.

There was a noticeable lack of goals during the 2023 season's first round of games, which some observers equate with a drop-off in attacking quality. This term kicked off with 17 goals; in 2019, the season began with 24 goals thanks to the flamboyant contributions of expensive imports such as Hulk and Paulinho.

Saturday's scenes, though, were more about the revival of a soccer culture that is rooted in pride of place. "The sense of belonging and participation among loyal soccer fans in cities like Beijing, Shanghai, Dalian, Tianjin and Wuhan will never change," read a commentary by youth.cn.

"With the wonderful passion showed by fans thus far, the rebuilding of Chinese soccer has more hope for the future. The brand-new Worker's Stadium in Beijing is comparable to the top stadiums in Europe, providing fans with a World Cup-level experience.

"There is every reason to believe that such an atmosphere will encourage more people to head to their local soccer stadiums. And ultimately the sport can become more of a lifestyle choice in China."

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