Mainland gears up for finals madness
MARK O'NEILL in Beijing
Outside Beijing's most expensive department store, two smartly dressed office girls hold posters of England's premier centre forward Alan Shearer.
'We will be drowsy at work [tomorrow],' one said.
'But we have to stay up to watch the game.' Brazil versus Scotland, the opening game of the World Cup, will be beamed to television screens across China tonight - starting with the opening ceremony at 10 pm - to about 200 million people, the largest national audience in the world.
In China, people are joking that Premier Zhu Rongji will fail in his efforts to boost economic growth for the next month because people will be too exhausted to work after watching soccer games during the night.
State television will broadcast live all 64 matches, with repeats the next day. The World Cup has already been given saturation advance coverage on radio, television and in the newspapers, with portraits of the players, managers and historical programmes.
Hundreds of mainland journalists are in France to cover the event.
The Beijing Youth Daily, the city's most popular tabloid, reflected the public mood yesterday.
It's lead was the election of Sepp Blatter as the new president of FIFA, over a story about how the 1.06 million users of the Internet were tapping into the first Chinese-language website on the World Cup.
Inside were stories on the public apology by English striker Terry Sheringham for his drinking, smoking and womanising last week, and an article on the famous absentees from the tournament, which include Brazil's Romario and England's Paul Gascoigne.
These articles reflect how well-informed urban Chinese have become about soccer in Europe and South America.