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   June 13, 2002 | 1630 IST


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Chinese fans shun team after exit

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Chinese fans shunned the national team as their World Cup adventure ended without either of the compensations -- a point or a goal -- that would have made their failure palatable.

"This has nothing to do with luck, our performance is not up to par. We can only face that reality," said Chen Baoming, one of the relatively few who bunked office work in Beijing to drink beer and watch his side lose 3-0 to Turkey.

Supporters' lack of faith in the team was reflected in dwindling numbers watching the game on giant screens or in bars.

At Beijing's Workers' Stadium, a mere 300 paid their 10 yuan ($1.20) to get in to watch on the big screen. Several thousand turned up to watch China's World Cup debut -- after 44 years of trying -- against Costa Rica which ended in a 2-0 defeat.

Bars packed for the earlier games, including a 4-0 defeat by the great Brazil, were virtually deserted.


Folks back home were well aware a win against the Turks would be too much to ask for and a draw probably wishful thinking. But they had prayed the team would leave their mark by finding the net. Alas, it was not to be.

"It would have been a shock if they had won. (South) Korea played in the World Cup for 48 years before finally winning a game," said Liu Qicheng as he watched the China-Turkey match in a Western-style steakhouse.

Cui Ling, 66, had picked up her daily stack of World Cup supplements at the news-stand and this year the papers' glossy photo inserts featured not just England's David Beckham and Brazil's Ronaldo but also China's Hao Haidong.

"It's only right that we should lose. We don't belong next to these star players yet," said Cui. "Mentally, we have a lot of growing to do. We also have to develop our players younger, starting from three or four years old."

China had felt blessed just to win an invitation to soccer's royal ball this year. But many fans are now worried about the future after the team's disappointing performance.

"Of course, we had hoped to reach the final 16, especially with the magic of Milu," said office worker Dong Yan, referring to coach Bora Milutinovic.

"But we know that you do not reach the top overnight," she said. "We'll have to work very hard in the next four years to get back there."

Milutinovic, leading his fifth side at a World Cup, is widely expected to move on. Fans said they would be sad to see him go.

"I would really like to see Milu stay, he's a character," said 23-year-old migrant worker Yuan Maohua.

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