China didn’t qualify for this year’s World Cup, but that didn’t spoil the fun for Chinese football fans.
The opening tournament saw hosts Russia thrashing Saudi Arabia 5-0, providing plenty of fodder for memes and jokes on China’s microblog Weibo.
People jumped on the hilarious interaction between Russian president Vladimir Putin and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, caught on camera.
One Weibo user imagined what was going on inside the head of Prince Salman: “You just wait. Once I get home I’ll slash oil prices in half." (The Russian economy is, of course, heavily dependant on oil exports.)
China might not be playing in the tournament this time, but its presence is still keenly felt. Stadiums are filled with billboards from Chinese sponsors such as phone maker Vivo and electronics manufacturer Hisense.
Since 2016, China has been pouring major cash into cultivating football talent. By 2050, it hopes to become a global powerhouse capable of challenging the world’s top teams -- a goal that seems pretty distant for now.
China has only qualified for the World Cup once, in 2002. They exited the tournament in the first round, failing to score a single goal and losing all three matches -- including 2-0 to Costa Rica, a country with a population smaller than many Chinese cities.
One Weibo user breathed a sigh of relief, writing, “Thankfully China didn’t qualify, or else it would be the Chinese team being crushed.”