Bei­jing to Bangkok, Asia’s hordes get foot­ball fever

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - FOOTBALL -

WORLD CUP fever is sweep­ing across Asia with hun­dreds of mil­lions of fans in the foot­ball-mad re­gion primed for an event that’s a sure-fire win­ner for pubs, clubs and bookmakers.

From Seoul to Syd­ney, Bei­jing to Bangkok, yes­ter­day’s kick-off thou­sands of miles away in South Africa, is sure to her­ald a month of late nights and bleary-eyed morn­ings for many Asian fans.

“We’re ex­pect­ing the ho­tel lounge to be full ev­ery night,” said Matthew Rashid, man­ager of the Equa­to­rial in Kuala Lumpur, where many bars and pubs are al­ready decked out with colour­ful bunting and posters.

“Ev­ery­one’s ex­cited and I’ll wear a jersey to work through­out the World Cup,” said the Brazil sup­porter.

In South Korea, who take on Greece to­day, gi­ant screens are be­ing set up in pub­lic squares, sports sta­di­ums and other lo­ca­tions around the coun­try for peo­ple to cheer on the na­tional team.

On the other side of the world’s most heav­ily mil­i­tarised border, North Kore­ans will be fol­low­ing a rare ap­pear­ance by their side, who have qual­i­fied for the event for the first time in 44 years.

But they risk be­ing left with­out any tele­vi­sion cov­er­age af­ter Seoul re­fused to pro­vide a free feed to its im­pov­er­ished neigh­bour ow­ing to ten­sions over the sink­ing of a South Korean war­ship in March.

In Tokyo, where in­ter­est in the sport has taken off since Ja­pan co­hosted the 2002 World Cup, suited white-col­lar work­ers were among those tak­ing a break from their hec­tic sched­ules for a scream­ing con­test to warm up for kick-off.

The win­ner was a man whose cry of “goal” lasted for 32 sec­onds. For those who pre­fer just to watch, Sony will pro­vide 3D im­ages of the ac­tion at about 500 sites around Ja­pan.

Pubs and bars in Bangkok – still reel­ing from the deadly “Red Shirt” protests – are hop­ing the event will tempt back the pun­ters, de­spite a state of emer­gency which in the­ory bans pub­lic gath­er­ings of more than five peo­ple.

The au­thor­i­ties have re­as­sured foot­ball fans they will not be ar­rested for watch­ing the matches – even if they wear a red jersey.

“It’s no prob­lem to wear a red shirt and cheer at the foot­ball as long as there are no guns in­volved,” said a Thai army spokesman.

Se­cu­rity will be par­tic­u­larly tight for kick-off at a Bangkok prison where in­mates from around the globe are hold­ing their own ver­sion of the World Cup.

Viet­nam is also soc­cer-ob­sessed and the hugely an­tic­i­pated event is ex­pected to all but bring daily life to a halt, while in Afghanistan for­eign troops will be crowd­ing around ev­ery avail­able tele­vi­sion set.

Christoph Sch­midt, a 31-yearold Ger­man-born US cor­po­ral in the 97th Mil­i­tary Po­lice Bat­tal­ion in Kan­da­har, had no doubts who he will be sup­port­ing. “I am def­i­nitely for Ger­many. There is no de­bate. The US might as well send their women’s soc­cer team,” he said.

At Casey Sta­tion in Antarc­tica, Aus­tralian sci­en­tists will tune in over the ra­dio when their team play Ger­many to­mor­row.

“They’ll lis­ten to it but they can’t see it,” a spokes­woman said.

While stock mar­kets may see a dip in trad­ing as in­vestors turn their eyes to South Africa, book­ies are ex­pected to see a surge in turnover, even in coun­tries such as Thai­land and Cam­bo­dia where bet­ting is il­le­gal.

Yet while many busi­nesses are happy to be in­fected with World Cup fever, oth­ers are brac­ing for a month of lost pro­duc­tiv­ity.

Some work­ers may take “sick­ies” af­ter the matches or come to work in­tent on watch­ing re­plays.

In In­done­sia, civil ser­vants have been warned of pay cuts if they fail to turn up on time over the next month. – Sapa-AFP

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