BEIJING - Around 70,000 fans packed into the Bird's Nest for the Italian Super Cup on Saturday, some to mark the first anniversary of the Olympic opening ceremony and others testament to the enduring popularity of Serie A in China. Serie A was the first foreign football to be broadcast regularly in China two decades ago and as a result is the most popular European league in the world's most populous country, whose own football is dogged by scandals and poor performances. Inter Milan's Chinese supporters had the edge in numbers and noise but it was the smaller band of fans in Lazio's sky blue who had the satisfaction of a 2-1 win in the traditional pre-season match between the league champions and Cup winners. "We weren't surprised at the reception because we'd been told we had many fans here," said Lazio coach Davide Ballardini. "But since we arrived at the airport and at the training session they have been great and hopefully we have made a few more fans too tonight." At open training earlier this week, Inter staff were delighted to hear their fans were not only wearing the club's colours but also knew plenty of the songs sung back home. Liu Lei, who quit his job as a home designer two years ago to be a "professional football fan", brought 30 members of his "Inner Mongolia Crazy Fan Club" to join the bank of Inter fans at the Bird's Nest on Saturday. "I always feel a sense of extreme happiness when I am in the stands, surrounded by other fans who share the same passion as me," he said. "I love watching football and cheering for my team. My family does not support me. I didn't tell them I was coming." Ma Yuning, 23, moved from the southeast coastal province of Fujian to the capital just for the chance to see the match. "The first football match I watched was in the winter of the 2001/02 season, Inter against Chievo on TV," he said. "That's it, I thought. Since then I have been an Inter supporter. "I was desperate to see this game so I came to Beijing three months ago and luckily I found a job before the Super Cup began." Despite the attraction of watching some of the finest players in European soccer like Samuel Eto'o and Diego Milito strut their stuff, some of the crowd were just there to relive the glory of last year's Olympics. "I am not a football fan, but I worked in this stadium last year. I came tonight because I just want to relive the same atmosphere of those days," said a former Olympic volunteer surnamed Zhao.
8 August 2009
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