As I noted last night, there are two sports that the Chinese care most passionately about, and those are soccer and basketball. Tonight, I will give you an update on those two important sports at the Olympics.
First, yesterday China played Spain in a very close basketball game. Remember, just a few days ago the U.S. "Dream Team" knocked off the China team by 31 points, 101-70, deflating Chinese hopes that there team might make it to the upper echelon of the basketball world in these Olympics. Well, the top teams by my estimate and those of the taxi drivers in Shenyang, is that there are 3-4 teams to watch in this year's Olympics, and those are the U.S., Spain, Greece and Lithuania. But yesterday, the Chinese basketball team almost pulled off a major upset, sending their game with Spain into overtime, though finally losing to the Spaniards. I remember yesterday as I was rushing home in a taxi to get ready for going out to the soccer matches in Shenyang, my taxi driver and I pulled off to the side of the road to listen to the final minutes of the China-Spain game on the radio, as China had an opportunity to win the game in the last few seconds of regulation play. Of course, when Yao Ming, the great Chinese center and Houston Rocket, fouled out early in the overtime, everyone knew the game was over for the Chinese. Nevertheless, the Chinese performance showed they are still a rising basketball power to be reckoned with and probably only one or two Olympics away from being a serious contender for the gold.
Tonight, I headed off to the soccer matches again in Shenyang and this time it was The Netherlands vs. Japan. Now, I am sure many of you are familiar with the national and historical enmity between China and Japan, much of it emanating from Japan's treatment of China during the second world war. Well, when I arrived tonight for the game, I had never known about this secret alliance in soccer between the Chinese and the Dutch. It seemed liked every fan, and there were many tonight, was supporting the Dutch in their battle with the Japanese team. While both teams played well, though the Japanese team seemed to move the ball a bit better during most of the game, the Netherlands squeeked out a narrow 1-0 win, with the winning goal on a penalty kick in the second half. As the Dutch scored the go-ahead goal, the stadium erupted in applause and Dutch-Chinese relations never seemed better. Of course, I think the Chinese support for the Dutch had more to do with the other team. For the Chinese, especially in the Northeast, the next best thing to a Chinese victory is a Japanese loss. And that was the take away from tonight's game; old enmities, even in sports die hard.
On a more positive side tonight, the Chinese men's soccer team played the Brazilians to a close 3-0 match. Well into the second half, the Chinese team was only down 1-0 to a much more talented Brazilian team. Again, it has to be said, besides the fantastic performances of Phelps in swimming and the U.S. basketball team, the Brazilian men's soccer team is a sight to behold; they are simply amazing in how they move the ball, attack the goal, and play with such skill and style. That the Chinese soccer team could stay in the game with them, was quite an accomplishment, and most of my Chinese friends went away proud that their team was able to make it an interesting game. Like I said before, China really wants to develop a great soccer and basketball team, and their performances in basketball against Spain and in soccer against Brazil, show they certainly have the potential in the future to realize this goal.
That's it for tonight. It has to be said that so far these Olympics are coming off very well and the athletic performances are absolutely stunning, especially Phelps. In fact, judging by the Shenyang taxi drivers, the real hero of this Olympic is Phelps, or, as the Chinese say Fee-er-pu-se. Talk to you tomorrow. Zai Jian.