The heat is on
Chinese fans hail return of major football competition
Published: Jun 14, 2021 04:25 PM
Denzel Dumfries (No.22) of the Netherlands celebrates scoring against Ukraine on Sunday in Amsterdam, the Netherlands. Photo: VCG

Denzel Dumfries (No.22) of the Netherlands celebrates scoring against Ukraine on Sunday in Amsterdam, the Netherlands. Photo: VCG

After a yearlong wait, the Euro 2020 is back in full swing, with waves of fans enjoying the games at the scenes for the 24-team UEFA European Championship. 

The game between England and Croatia on Sunday remains the most discussed game among Chinese fans, thanks to its prime-time broadcast spot on 9 pm during a long weekend. 

Star-studded England, dubbed by many Chinese fans as the "Chinese team in Europe" for its underachieving performances - much like China in past tournaments, labored toward an eventual 1-0 win over Croatia, thanks to a goal from Manchester City forward Raheem Sterling.

"England are getting more energetic compared to the Three Kitties in the 2018 World Cup semifinal," a ­Chinese fan posted on Weibo, referring to the nickname mocking the Three Lions as Three Kitties when comparing Sunday's game to the 2018 World Cup semifinal where Croatia defeated England 2-1.

"Maybe this England team could go further [in this championship], if they can produce more cutting-edge skills in the offense."

Aside from England, Danish player Christian Eriksen's sudden collapse on the pitch dominated Chinese social media. 

Eriksen collapsed just three minutes before halftime in Denmark's Euro 2020 opening game against Finland on Saturday. He was later confirmed by suffering a cardiac arrest, according to Denmark's team doctor. 

"It's been a long time since my last time seeing a player collapse without any body contact in a major championship," a Chinese football fan posted on Weibo. 

When Eriksen was stretchered away, a Finland flag was seen helping retain then-collapsed Eriksen's privacy.

"Once we hail the word 'football is more important than life or death,' but this game is telling us that football helps us understand what matters in life," another Chinese fan said.

Thanks to the timely intervention of on-site medical personnel, we are happy to see Eriksen's coming back.

Players from Chinese Super League

There are also three players from the Chinese Super League (CSL) who are playing in the European Championship: Austrian forward Marko Arnautovic of Shanghai Port, Swedish defender Marcus Danielson of Dalian Pro and his compatriot midfielder Gustav Svensson of Guangzhou City .

"Obviously, Arnautovic plays a vital role in orchestrating Austria's attacks," another fan said on Weibo as Arnautovic scored a goal in Austria's 3-1 win against North Macedonia on Sunday, the first goal at Euro 2020 by a CSL player. 

Though their teams are unlikely to win the championship, their presences at Euro 2020 have shrugged off the skepticism that the CSL is not competitive, after Chinese football governing body introduced salary cap that excludes several high-salary foreign players. 

There are also several former CSL players that are worth a watch, as former Beijing Guoan player Burak Yılmaz of Turkey is trying to help his team secure a top-16 berth, while ex-Tianjin Quanjian player Axel Witsel of Belgium and his compatriot Yannick Carrasco, a former Dalian Pro midfielder, are hoping to take Belgium to glory.

Commemorating the past

The championship, once scheduled to be held in 2020 to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the European Championship, is being held in 11 ­cities of 10 countries, with stadiums yet to be fully filled due to local governments' social distancing regulations.

But there are plenty of Chinese fans fearing that having fans at the scene will make previous anti-pandemic efforts in vain, as Europe is yet to ­manage the virus spread like unlike China. But there are also voices argue that it needs football fans to ignite football games as behind-closed-door games are getting boring. 

Wembley Stadium in London, which will host semifinals and the ­final, requires fans attending the games to wear face masks and provide negative lateral flow test within 48 hours or proof of full vaccination. 

But Britain was witnessing a fifth day in a row of more than 7,000 new COVID-19 cases on Sunday, a situation which is likely to postpone the country's plan of easing lockdowns. 

The Euro chance

Another topic that dominated the Chinese fans' discussions is the Chinese sponsors, as four Chinese companies have targeted marketing efforts at the tournament. 

"It makes me feel like I am watching a domestic football game. It really does not feel like you are watching European Championship with so many Chinese advertising," a Weibo user said.

Marketing at the European Championship has been regarded as an opportunity for companies to grow international reputation, as many are vying for the chance to be shown around the world through the live broadcasting of football games.

China's electronic giant Hisense is among the top sponsors of the UEFA. The company said its marketing campaign at the European Championships, along with its efforts during the 2018 FIFA World Cup, have massively boosted its global reputation. 

Hisense said in its 2020 report that its annual revenue has reached to 140.9 billion yuan ($22.02 billion), with the revenue from overseas has taken up nearly 40 percent. Overseas revenue accounted for 42 percent of its overall revenue in the first quarter of 2021.

According to a report by Ipsos Connect, Hisense's brand awareness has increased sharply in Britain, Germany, France, Italy and Spain - countries that host major football leagues in Europe. 

Separately, Alipay's sponsorship to Euro 2020 will see its name on the top scorer trophy, with the winner's scoring records being uploaded to blockchain for permanent storage for the first time, the UEFA said. 

Due to the time differences between the European countries and China, many high-profile games are scheduled to be held after midnight in China. But the viewership is likely to grow as the much-anticipated high-profile games are still to come.