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Nation Feels Buzz as World Cup Nears
Cities across China are set to come to a virtual standstill when the nation makes its debut in the World Cup finals with record numbers set to tune into the national team's games.

A survey has revealed 76.7 percent of people aged between 17 and 61 will closely follow the progress of China's football players in the showpiece event in South Korea and Japan.

Views were canvassed by Beijing-based Horizon Research Group among 4,261 residents in 10 major cities, which included questions on which national team was likely to be crowned champions at the end of the month-long event.

The figures show a huge jump from last year -- before the Chinese men's team broke their 44-year qualification hoodoo - when similar research by Horizon revealed just 51.7 percent planned to watch the tournament.

Women are also showing great interest in the squad's fortunes with 67.4 percent vowing to watch the games.

Of the 10 major cities, Shenyang, capital of Northeast China's Liaoning Province and the "lucky" city of the Chinese football team, showed the most enthusiasm with 87 percent of people planning to tune in to the World Cup.

Beijing also proved a hotbed of interest with 78.7 percent of fans admitting they would pay close attention to how the team gets on.

But this display of passion by China's football faithful did not mean they were expecting China to challenge the major powers of the global game.

Just 8.3 of those surveyed believed China will be a "dark horse" at the finals and reach the last 16.

This contrasted with the views of more than one-third of people questioned who thought a final 16 berth was a "mission impossible" for China.

At the extreme end of things, 3.3 percent nailed their colors loyally to the mast and predicted China would lift the World Cup on its debut.

Yugoslav coach Bora Milutinovic, who will prepare China's team at the World Cup finals, received strong backing from Chinese football fans.

The wily tactician has helped no fewer than four different national teams reach the last 16 of the tournament in the previous quartet of World Cups.

Most of the surveyed hoped Milutinovic -- nicknamed "Milu" by Chinese media - would weave his magic once again in South Korea and lead the team to the second round.

China has its work cut out to make an impact on the competition as it must first overcome the opposition of Brazil, Turkey and Costa Rica.

Perhaps showing a hint of pessimism at their team's chances, 20.9 percent of people questioned said first phase opponents Brazil would go on to win the event.

There was also strong support for Argentina (14.6 percent) and defending champions France (13.1 percent).

However, 33.3 percent of football fans were baffled by which nation would claim the trophy and failed to register a prediction when surveyed.

(China Daily May 25, 2002)

China Announces World Cup Squad
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