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Team, Fans Mourn Loss of World Cup Qualifying Stadium
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Chinese international midfielder Zhao Junzhe was among those left mourning Monday after a pack of demolition experts used two tons of dynamite to flatten Shenyang Wulihe Stadium, the site of China's only successful qualifying campaign for the World Cup finals in 2001/2.

"I am very, very depressed," said Zhao.

"I don't understand why they had to raze it to the ground. We should not demolish everything, good or bad. I think we need to keep some reminders of China's past soccer glory."

It took China 44 years to qualify for the World Cup finals, but only seven seconds to obliterate one of the key pieces of architecture that has served as both a cultural landmark and a reminder of their success.

In its place will be built a shopping mall.

Local Chinese media were equally scornful of the decision to let the steamroller of modernization chew up the stadium.

"Dream demolished," wrote Titan Sports. "It takes just seven seconds to destroy China's only dream place at the World Cup."

Sina.com also lamented the loss. "All the sweet memories have gone along with the explosion. History has disappeared forever."

Media coverage on the issue was strictly prohibited in Shanyang, and in Liaoning Province as a whole.

Despite this, hundreds of fans gathered to watch Monday's demolition of the 60,000-capacity stadium, where China beat Oman 1-0 in October 2001 to qualify for the following year's World Cup finals in South Korea and Japan.

In the days that followed, wreaths began to litter the site.

Li Ming, a former teammate of Zhao, was in an equally nostalgic mood.

"There was a lot of emotion, especially at the World Cup qualifiers. I will never forget it," he said.

Fans seemed generally opposed to the demolition.

"I cried the whole night, " said Zhou Zhe, a 24-year-old local resident. "The stadium is a symbol of Chinese football and also a symbol for the city of Shenyang. I've always been proud of it."

Others saw the move as positive for Chinese soccer, clearing away old cobwebs in order to march boldly forward.

"That qualification match is a part of history," said Ma Mingyu, China's captain in 2001. "But Chinese soccer has plenty to do and we should look to the future."

The site of the stadium will be redeveloped as a shopping center, while a new 60,000-seat arena is being built in the northeastern city to host preliminary-round matches for the 2008 Olympic soccer tournament.

(China Daily February 15, 2007)

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