Chinese hotshot starts 2020 with a bang by bagging historic goal against Barcelona in Catalan derby
Wu Lei’s European adventure hit new heights after the trailblazing Chinese striker added the mighty Barcelona to his list of conquests.
Wu came off the bench to fire home a superb 88th-minute equalizer and grab Espanyol a 2-2 draw in a dramatic Catalan derby on Saturday night.
“A magical night, a new year, a good start,” Wu wrote on Instagram after the game.
The strike sees Wu become the first Chinese player to hit the net in a competitive fixture against Barca and gives last-place Espanyol a much-needed point in its battle against La Liga relegation.
“I am so excited not only because the goal was against Barca but also the point means a lot for our team at the moment,” Wu told Espanyol’s website.
“I hope the result can help us regain our confidence and put us back on the right track in the league.
“I can feel that our morale is back in the locker room with such an important point gained against Barca. The vibe within the team right now is very positive. I believe we can play better and with more togetherness starting from today.”
The goal was the 28-year-old’s third in all competitions this season for Espanyol and sixth since he became the first Chinese to permanently sign for a Spanish top-flight club in a reported 2-million-euro ($2.25-million) deal from Shanghai SIPG last January.
Since then, Wu has been busy racking up the milestones. He opened his La Liga account against Real Valladolid in March, and in October became the first Chinese man to score in a major UEFA club competition, excluding the qualifying rounds, by netting in a 2-0 Europa League victory at CSKA Moscow.
Rays of light
Wu’s feats in Europe are rare rays of light for Chinese soccer amid the national team’s ongoing struggles, with new Team China coach Li Tie quick to acknowledge the forward’s latest inspirational moment.
“Wu Lei is the best Chinese player right now and the only one who can play in a topflight European league,” said Li at a media conference in Beijing on Sunday before flying to Guangzhou for a Team China training session.
“I watched his game last night－he produced a great performance, earned honor for China and impressed Chinese fans. I hope he can carry on this momentum.”
Wu’s goal immediately became the top-searched topic on Weibo, with the plaudits flooding in from fans and pundits alike.
“In one of the darkest times of Chinese football, a goal from Wu Lei sparks such joy. Come on, Chinese football!” wrote CCTV commentator He Wei on his microblog.
Last season, Wu popped up with vital goals and assists to help steer Espanyol away from relegation trouble and ultimately earn the team an unexpected Europa League berth.
Currently bottom of the pile in La Liga and four points from safety, Espanyol has its work cut out to beat the drop again this term, but Wu’s heroics certainly give it renewed hope.
After opening the scoring through a 23rd-minute David Lopez header and managing to keep Lionel Messi relatively quiet, Espanyol found itself staring down the barrel of another defeat in new coach Abelardo Fernandez’s first game in charge after two moments of brilliance from Luis Suarez.
A neat half-volley from the Uruguayan brought Barca level in the 50th minute before Suarez deftly crossed for substitute Arturo Vidal to head the visitor in front in the 59th.
However, the sending-off of Dutch playmaker Frankie de Jong for a second yellow card in the 66th minute opened up the game and put an extra spring in Espanyol’s step.
Wu was introduced for Oscar Melendo in the 74th minute and immediately tested Barca goalkeeper with a well-directed header that just lacked for power.
The China international proved a real handful for Barca’s defense and, after showing fine anticipation to run onto a Matias Vargas through-ball, Wu found the net with a precision finish from a difficult angle to send the home fans into raptures.
In a thrilling end-to-end finale, Wu should have had a chance to bag the winner but teammate Jonathan Calleri blazed over when squaring to the unmarked Wu looked the wiser option.
Click Here: liverpool mens jersey
“It’s a turning point for these players who have suffered so much,” said Fernandez, Espanyol’s third coach this season following the firings of David Gallego in October and Pablo Machin on Dec 21.
“They gave it their all against a great team. The expulsion of de Jong helped us, but my team was never out of the match and deserved the point. If we compete like this, we will be hard to beat.”
Suarez was left to rue his team’s capitulation in the first-versus-last matchup. “The hardest thing to do is to turn a game around when playing on the road,” Suarez said. “We let these points slip away.”
Sunday’s draw leaves Barca top of the standings, but now only leading second-place Real Madrid on goal difference. Zinedine Zidane’s Madrid won 3-0 at local rival Getafe.