Vietnam catches "the fever'

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The streets are awash with the jeers and cheers of football-crazy fans crying both for joy and desperation


An eatery on Ho Chi Minh City's Nguyen Trung Truc Street projects a live World Cup match on the sidewalk. A recent survey found that half of Vietnamese respondents declared themselves football fans.

With the group stage almost over and the Jabulani balls set to roll through the elimination round of the World Cup, Vietnam has been bitten bad by the football bug, and millions upon millions are infected.

Nguyen Phuoc Thien said he has yet to miss a World Cup game this year, despite his busy study schedule.

"It's fun to enjoy all the matches and evaluate each team to guess the winners of each round and the future champions," said the 22- year-old economics student in Ho Chi Minh City.

Thien said he is always a football fan, not just during the World Cup like so many others. He often watches games live with his friends at the HCMC Youth Cultural House because he said he loves the exciting atmosphere with the crowd.

The atmosphere has been nearly recreated on streets across the city these days, where it is easy to feel the feverish infection afflicting sports fans on every corner and in every shop.

The joyful and disappointed cries of the crowds from street-side eateries and beer houses can be heard after each attack, goal, or any other dramatic moment during any game. Even seemingly boring matchups attract rowdy drinkers swept up in the cup.

A recent survey by US-based researcher The Nielsen said Vietnamese were the second biggest football fans in Asia.

More than half of Vietnamese respondents declared themselves followers of the game, making them the second most avid fans in the Asia Pacific region, according to a survey by The Nielsen Company released on the opening of the World Cup on June 11. The most avid follower in Asia was Indonesians, where 54 percent of those surveyed declared themselves fans, compared to Vietnam's 52 percent.

Marcus, an Australian tourist, said he was surprised by the World Cup atmosphere when he arrived in HCMC for a four-day visit on June 17.

"You can watch the games everywhere at a restaurant or a café. It's really cool!" he said, adding that watching the games with the excitement of the streets had become an unexpected but indispensable part of his Vietnam travels.

Pham Van Son, the owner of a restaurant in HCMC's Go Vap District, said he had bought a projector with a large screen to attract more customers during the World Cup.

"Many people often bet for fun with each other... and the loser will pay for food and beer at the end of the game," he said. Restaurants and bars that did not broadcast the cup were empty during the tournament, he added.

"Even roadside eateries have small TVs broadcasting the matches and attracted dozens of customers every match."

There's gambling, then there's gambling

Dao Van Kha, director of an office interior decoration company in HCMC, said he had been enjoying the World Cup by gambling small wagers with his friends and colleagues at restaurants around the city.

He said they often ordered food and drinks and the losing punters would pick up the tab.

"It's more exciting to watch it that way as we follow the games and support our favorite teams," he said. He added that he was more interested in the World Cup and Vietnam's international games rather than domestic leagues due to the quality of the matches.

But gambling is not all just fun and games and is illegal in Vietnam.

HCMC police on June 17 busted a gambling den in Tan Binh District, arresting 59 people involved in illegal betting on a World Cup match between South Korea and Argentina.

Truong Tri Dung, the den's ringleader, confessed that he had organized illegal gambling several times over the course of this year's World Cup. He said he oversaw bets worth nearly US$7,000 each.

Such gambling houses have bankrupted many people, and at least two recent suicide attempts in the city have been attributed to debts incurred during World Cup gambling.

On June 20, passers-by on the banks of Saigon River in Binh Thanh District found a 30-year-old man clinging to a buoy in a swift current crying for help.

Nguyen Van Chuc, a guard who was on duty watching the buoys in the area, swam to rescue the man. Chuc said the man denied that he had attempted to commit suicide, but one of his relatives said he was a football gambling addict and had been unable to repay heavy gambling debts. The relative presumed the debt had prompted him to commit suicide by drowning himself in the river.

Chuc also said his brother, a fisherman on the Saigon River, had rescued another man on June 15 who had also attempted to commit suicide after losing large bets on World Cup matches.

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