China at fever pitch as World Cup kicks off

Football fever hit China over the weekend as the 2006 World Cup kicked off.

Fans across the country crammed into bars and open-air venues to watch live coverage of the opening matches, despite the six-hour time difference between China and tournament host Germany.

Doctors however last night warned against the dangers of excessive drinking after a 24-year-old man surnamed Wang, from Changsha, capital city of Central China's Hunan Province, collapsed and died two hours after watching the opening match.

Police said that he had been drinking excessively throughout the evening.

In Beijing, thousands of football followers swarmed to the Sanlitun and Houhai areas, which were decked out in World Cup flags and banners for the openning matches.

On Friday fans began arriving at bars from late afternoon to grab prime viewing positions for the opening ceremony and first game, Germany versus Costa Rica.

For Tom Husband, 27, from England, who has been teaching in Beijing for more than a year, the tournament was a vivid example of how international Beijing was. He joined teaching colleagues from Germany, Canada and the United States, to watch the opening match at The Goose and Duck Pub.

"I watched some of the last World Cup in pubs back home, but it was a very different atmosphere as everyone was supporting England," he said. "But being here is something else.

"The atmosphere is incredible. I think it's because there are so many people from different backgrounds and countries, and the Chinese as well are so into football. They know so much. It makes it a real festival atmosphere, and you can't help but enjoy it, even if you're not a huge football fan."

John Harkness, manager at the Goose and Duck, said business seemed to increase 10-fold compared to regular weekends.

"It was just incredible," he said.

"And, one of the things that surprised me was that we had a lot of Chinese here too. I think they just wanted to enjoy the international flavour of it all.

"The Goose and Duck is a real regulars place, where you normally see the same people coming back, but a lot of the people that came for the matches had never been here before."

On Saturday, hundreds of England supporters descended on Bar Blu's roof terrace, where a giant projector has been brought in for the tournament.

Thirsty fans even drank dry the draft supplies of Tsingtao beer.

Manager Greg Dover said: "We haven't had that before, but luckily we had other beers on draft.

"From a business point of view, the weekend was very good for us and everyone who came seemed to enjoy themselves.

"We had a lot of Germans here on Friday, and even one or two Costa Ricans as well."

Meanwhile a doctor surnamed Zhou, from Changsha Xiangya Hospital, last night warned fans not to get carried away during the games and drink too much alcohol.

The warning came after the death of a Chinese football fan in the city.

Zhou added people who repeatedly stayed up to the early hours to watch matches could also become rundown and be susceptible to colds and other illnesses.

With the late kick-off times in China, a larger police presence than usual could be seen on the major bar streets of many big cities after midnight over the weekend.

However there were no reports of disturbances.

It is not yet known how many people in China watched the opening matches.

CCTV, which is broadcasting all the tournament's games, is expecting huge audiences for their World Cup coverage even though most of the matches will take place late at night and the national team failed to qualify.

Games will also be repeated during the daytime.

"It's difficult to tell how many people in China will watch the World Cup," an official from CCTV sports centre told the Xinhua News Agency.

"But I would estimate the total audience for the entire tournament will be more than 10 billion."

Source: China Daily

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