Goalies and Ghutras: Chinese Internet Reacts to Qatar World Cup

By Alistair Baker-Brian, November 25, 2022

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It’s been a little less than a week since the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 kicked off. And already, the Chinese internet is buzzing with World Cup fever. 

From the jaw-dropping performance of Saudi Arabia’s goalkeeper to the “real-life” Qatari mascot and everything in between, we take a look at how the tournament has been viewed through China’s eyes so far. 

China’s Off-The-Pitch Contribution 

It’s been 20 years since China’s men’s national football team participated in their first, and to date, only World Cup competition. However, Chinese media outlets have been quick to point out that the country has contributed in ways other than on the pitch. 

Global Times proclaims that ‘China’s manufacturing shines at World Cup venues.’ From steel doors to shipping containers used at the Fan Village Cabins Free Zone in the Qatari capital Doha, China-made products are not difficult to find. 

Meanwhile, China Daily states that while China is not on the pitch at the World Cup, the country is 'pursuing soccer power in the long run.' 

It notes that the China International Railway Group built the Lusail Stadium, and that China gifted Qatar two pandas – Jing Jing and Sihai – who were later renamed Suhail and Soraya. 

Li Jianming – deputy director of China’s General Administration of Sport – says the country plans to put in a bid for a future World Cup, but “the timetable is yet to be decided.”

At present, those of us in China can only dare to dream. 

Shock Results 

China shared the world’s collective shock at two particular results from Group C and Group E, respectively – no prizes for guessing which games we’re referring to. 

Following Saudi Arabia’s 2-1 victory against Argentina, the hashtag #沙特门将 牛# (Saudi Arabia goalkeeper… amazing) has garnered around 330 million views on social media platform Weibo. 

Mohammed Al-Owais was hardly a footballing household name before November 22. His robust performance was crucial to his side’s victory over the Argentinians. And, it seems his efforts were not lost on the Chinese internet. 

Also trending on Weibo were hashtags noting that 2022 marks the final World Cup for footballing superstar Lionel Messi. 

#梅西最后一次世界杯今晚启程# (Messi’s final World Cup starts tonight) garnered over 32 million views. We can only imagine how many Messi fans from all across the Middle Kingdom were left a little broken-hearted following Tuesday’s result. 

Of course, that’s not the only upset we’ve seen so far. 

Germany’s 2-1 defeat to Japan came as a shock in China and the world over.

Many Weibo users paid attention to the fact that after the game finished, Japanese fans watching in the stadium were seen dutifully clearing up trash. One Chinese netizen joked that if China had just beaten Germany 2-1, Chinese fans would “clean the entire stadium.” 

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A Weibo user jokes that the stadium would be completely clean if China had beaten Germany 2-1. Image via Weibo

The ‘Real-Life’ Qatari Mascot

During the opening game of the World Cup between host-nation Qatar and Ecuador, there was one particular Qatari fan who got a little more attention than he might have expected. 

A young Qatari man – known only by his Twitter handle @afjalthani1 – can be seen standing up in the crowd appearing frustrated. Many Chinese netizens paid attention to the way he flicked back his ghutra, a type of headdress worn by men in many Arab countries. 

Many people said he looked like the real-life version of the official World Cup mascot, La’eeb – an anthropomorphized cartoon ghutra whose name means ‘super-skilled player’ in Arabic. 

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The young Qatari fan who went viral on the Chinese internet. Image via Weibo

The young man later recorded a video in English in which he addressed his Chinese fans. He said the following: 

“Hello. This is my message for all my Chinese fans. I’m here just to say thank you for all of your beautiful comments and all of your beautiful videos. I’ve seen all of them. Thank you so much and you’re more welcomed to Qatar. You can experience and watch this amazing event – the World Cup. Thank you.”

Warnings to Drink Drivers and Gamblers 

The World Cup is a time for many fans to gather and be merry. But of course, getting a little too merry can bring its fair share of problems. 

In Bayan Nur – a prefecture level city in Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region – traffic authorities have been no taking no chances with drink drivers. 

An article published via the Inner Mongolia Traffic Police’s WeChat Official Account stated that “wild partying during the World Cup would not be tolerated.”

Police could be seen putting up posters around the city which warned partyers about the consequences of drink driving. 

Another World Cup warning came for potential gamblers (note that gambling is illegal on the Chinese mainland). 

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A poster informing people how to avoid scams during the World Cup. Image via Weibo

China Daily notes the “ongoing crackdown on gambling and fraud related to soccer matches.” 

They cited the example of Meixi township (梅西镇), Meizhou city, Guangdong province, where police issued a warning to people not to gather in large groups, gamble or drink and drive. 

We couldn’t help but notice the name of the particular township China Daily chose to shed light on; Meixi (梅西) is in fact Messi’s name in Chinese – coincidence?


[Cover image via Weibo/@英国足球那点事]

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