By Xiang Bin
On the pitch, the players are unquestionably the focus of attention, but in the stands, it's the fans that are the most eye-catching.
As Argentina took on Ivory Coast in their 2008 Olympics opener on August 7th, a constant chant of "Ole Argentina, Ole Argentina," echoed from all sides of the Shanghai Stadium.
Members of the fans club of Argentina in China [Xiang Bin/China.org.cn]
A particularly well-organized group of supporters were shouting encouragement for the team they worship. They were wearing Argentina T-shirts and football shirts, had Argentine flags painted on their faces, and were singing songs in Spanish. Nothing remarkable about that, you might say, until you notice that these fans are all Chinese. A journalist from China.org.cn interviewed the group at half time.
"We call ourselves the Argentina fan club of China. The club was founded 6 years ago and now has several thousand members," Diego, the leader of the group said.
"We come from all round the country; Beijing, Tianjin, Shandong, Hebei, everywhere in fact. We have bought tickets for all the Argentina games, from the group stage, to the quarter-finals, semi-finals, right through to the final, to make sure we don't miss anything. We're absolutely convinced Argentina will get to the final and defend the championship successfully," said Xiao Xiong one of the group members.
When asked how they learnt to sing in Spanish, Diego said, "At the start a few of us taught ourselves Spanish and when new members join we teach them the words of the songs. We often chat on line. We have our own online forum and organize activities such as football tournaments, watching games and so on."
Barcelona star Lionel Messi inspired Argentina to win the game, scoring the first goal and providing the chance for Lautoro Acosta to turn in the second in the team's 2-1 victory. China's Argentina fan club went crazy with delight. "We're going to a bar to celebrate tonight's victory," they shouted. "Want to join us?"
Xiaoxiong, a member of the club [Xiang Bin/China.org.cn]
(China.org.cn August 10, 2008)