“Chinese soccer fans are ‘daogeo (supporting the enemy, like holding a spear upside down)’ fans who cheer for the Korean team rather than their own team” (Titan Barker, famous sports blogger)
“Even to Chinese people, Sun (Son Heung-min) was the ‘king of soccer’” (Dongfang Sports Daily)
When the Korean national team arrived at Shenzhen Airport in China on the 19th to play the Korea-China match in the 2026 FIFA North-Central America World Cup Asian qualifiers, hundreds of Chinese soccer fans greeted them with cheers. They waved posters with the players’ faces or the uniforms of European soccer clubs that Korean players belong to, saying things like “Sun Xingmin (Son Heung-min’s Chinese name)” and “Asia’s number one brother.”[亞周一哥]” he shouted over and over again. Chinese media reported the atmosphere at the scene and commented, “It seems like the Korean national team has come to play a home game, not an away game.”
The Korean national team, led by coach Jurgen Klinsmann (59, Germany), will face the Chinese national team at the Universiade Sports Center in Shenzhen, China, at 8 p.m. on the 21st. This is a large stadium with 68,000 seats. Ticket prices range from a minimum of 160 yuan (approximately 29,000 won) to a maximum of 680 yuan (approximately 122,000 won), but they were sold out instantly on the 17th, when the match between Korea and China was confirmed. As the number of soccer fans wanting to sell tickets increased, the Chinese Football Association announced, “We will introduce a strict real-name verification procedure.” The Korean national team’s trip to China was six years after the ‘Changsha disaster’ in March 2017, when they lost 0-1 to China in the ‘6th round of the final qualifying round of the Russia World Cup’.
Even the Chinese media is busy promoting Korean players. Sports media West China reported, “The Korean national team boasts brilliant star power as it includes 13 overseas players,” and Zboba said, “As long as Son Heung-min played in the China-Korea game, the Chinese team scored 0 points.” did. Tencent Sports analyzed that “the total value of the Korean national team players is 187.55 million euros (about 265 billion won), which is 17 times that of the Chinese national team.”
The reason why the Chinese people welcome the Korean team playing against their own team is because the popularity of Korean players in China is explosive. As Chinese soccer has fallen into a long-term slump, Son Heung-min (31, Tottenham), Lee Kang-in (22, Paris Saint-Germain), and Kim Min-jae (27, Bayern Munich), who play for big overseas clubs, have emerged as stars for Chinese soccer fans. In particular, Son Heung-min’s popularity is overwhelming. When a video comparing skills with Chinese players is posted on Douyin (Chinese version of TikTok), comments such as ‘Don’t insult Son Heung-min, who is at a different level’ are plastered all over the place.
China currently has no players playing for big overseas clubs. Wu Lei, considered China’s best player, also left RCD Espanyol in the Spanish Primera Liga in August last year. Dongfangzhou, who joined Manchester United in the past, is also evaluated as a ‘player for T-shirt sales’. China’s FIFA ranking is 79th, which is significantly lower than Korea’s (24th), and it has never successfully advanced to the World Cup finals. Xu Mo (35), a soccer fan from Beijing, explained, “Chinese soccer lovers express their disappointment with their country’s soccer through affection for players from their fellow Asian country, South Korea.”
The frustration of asking, “Out of a population of 1.4 billion people, why can’t they select 11 people who are good at kicking the ball?” has long since turned into anger. In particular, when former national soccer team coach Li Tian was investigated on charges of misconduct in November last year, and an investigation into the soccer industry was triggered, criticism from Chinese soccer fans poured in. Until recently, 13 major figures, including current and former presidents and secretaries of the Chinese Football Association, resigned from their positions. In June of this year, the Chinese professional soccer league was neglected and a ‘rural league’ in which rural youth played was launched.[村超·촌 슈퍼리그]’ has become popular nationwide.
The biggest wish of Chinese soccer fans is for the Chinese team to succeed in advancing to the finals for the first time in the 2026 North-Central America World Cup and create a ‘reversal drama’. Since the North-Central America World Cup, the number of countries advancing to the finals has increased from 32 countries (4 teams, 8 groups) to 48 countries (3 teams, 16 groups), so it is considered a genius opportunity for the Chinese national team.