KAZAN, Russia (Reuters) - Chinese soccer fan Diego Wang would prefer to see the national team play at the World Cup, but in their absence, his heart belongs to Spain and the superstars he has long revered on television.
It was a big commitment for Wang to fly his parents and girlfriend from their Ecuador home base to Russia to see the Iberians, but a chance not to be spurned.
“We’re quite into Spain because we actually studied there so we have some sentiment about the place,” Beijing-born Wang told Reuters in Kazan on Tuesday, on the eve of the Group B match against Iran.
“We like the style of Spanish football, and this is the last chance to see this generation of Spanish players so we wanted to come see them.”
The likes of Sergio Ramos, Andres Iniesta and Isco are hugely admired by Asian football fans, many of whom have flocked to the World Cup to follow the 2010 champions to unlikely destinations across the huge Russian heartland.
La Liga competes hard with the English Premier League in Asian markets, where the quality of local competitions can be modest and their national teams’ hopes of qualifying for the World Cup remote.
Chinese fans are particularly smitten by Spanish football, while being dismissive of the stodgier local product showcased at home.
Wang Wei, a lawyer from Yantai in the eastern province of Shandong, had tickets for the Spain-Iran match at Kazan Arena for he and his friend Deng Mengtao, a Russia-based Chinese.
“This team Spain, because it’s a highly skilled team, that’s why we like them,” Wang said, while out sightseeing at Kazan’s Kremlin, the city’s most popular tourist sight.
“Then there is the La Liga competition, Barcelona, then Real Madrid, Cristiano Ronaldo, Messi, we all like them. They give us young people more passion and inspiration.”
Dressed in a Spain shirt, Bangkok-based Kirana Chontweenut and her Thai friend Kornkarun Wattaninwong arrived in Kazan after a long train journey.
Initially nervous about traveling in Russia, they were pleasantly surprised by the local hospitality.
“I’ve supported Spain for about 10 years and I love their tactics and when they play together it’s the best for me,” chemicals industry worker Kirana told Reuters.
“I like Raul Gonzalez (before) and now it’s Sergio Ramos.
“I can’t explain how much I’m excited about tomorrow night. It was my dream. It’s like a dream come true.”
Her friend Kornkarun added: “Because we’ll be able to see the players as someone you can watching from the screen, the TV screen for years and now we’re seeing them for the very first time in our life, basically, so it’s very, very exciting.”
A Thailand tourism worker, Kornkarun was also wearing red but it was a Bayern Munich shirt.
She admitted her first allegiance was to defending champions Germany, and showed off her fingernails painted in the yellow, black and red of the country’s flag.
“Tomorrow (they’re) going to be Spain red and yellow,” she laughed.
Editing by Ed Osmond