Chinese top footballer Wu Lei concluded his rookie season in the Spanish Football League La Liga with one goal in the season finale matchup against Real Sociedad. Thanks to Wu’s decisive goal in the 65th minute, Espanyol managed to secure a victory in the game and finished in the 7th place.
With an eight-round undefeated record, Espanyol fought its way through the relegation zone and, surprisingly, won a ticket to attend the Europa League in the upcoming season. The Spanish football club will start from the second round of the qualification games and thus have a chance to advance to the finals.
This would be the first time for Espanyol to appear in the Europa League in 13 years. The team’s last appearance in the league was in the 2006-2007 season, during which Espanyol reached all the way to the finals, but lost to another Spanish team Sevilla in penalty shootings after tying at 2-2 during a game that lasted 120 minutes. While Espanyol still needs to start from a rather low stage of the tournament, the team has certainly made a significant achievement in the current decade.
Wu Lei joined the Barcelona-based football club in January 2019, after the 2019 Asian Cup games. Wu played 16 games for Espanyol and scored three goals, including the final goal that took Espanyol to the Europa League. While Wu Lei’s performance was mostly outshined by Son Heung Min’s 20-goal season achievement, Wu’s appearance in the European top-level professional league surely energized football fans in China. As the Chinese national team failed to show adequate performances in the Asian Cup and the friendly matches, Chinese fans are viewing Wu as the ‘only hope of the country’.
Scoring three goals in one season is not an easy task. The last Chinese football player who managed to go over that limit in one season at the top-level league was Yang Chen, who scored 8 goals for German football club Eintracht Frankfurt in the 1998-1999 season, which was 20 years before Wu’s streak.
Wu Lei joined the team in the middle of an ongoing season, and a three-goal performance in this case is quite satisfactory. Having limited knowledge of Spanish football and the Spanish language, Wu made rapid changes to fit into the team and the games. Through his performances on and off the pitch, Wu Lei delivered positive messages for the Chinese football and raised fan’s expectations for the upcoming season in La Liga and the Europa League.
However, contrary to Wu’s achievement, Chinese national team’s mediocre performances have made the interim head coach Fabio Cannavaro resign from the position. Cannavaro claimed that he would return to his original post in a football club and focus on coaching the Guangzhou Evergrande. We reported earlier that Marcello Lippi is expected to return as the head coach of the team after leaving it following the 2019 Asian Cup.
Wu has been an important contributor to the Chinese national team in past tournaments. The Chinese striker scored three goals for his national team in the 2018 FIFA World Cup Qualifier and two goals in the 2019 Asian Cup. While the 39-year-old captain Zheng Zhi is approaching the end of his professional football career, Wu Lei is likely going to be the person who will take on the position of the leading player in the Chinese national team in the upcoming quest to make it to the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.
For both Wu Lei and Espanyol, the past season was a great turning point. After earning championship titles on every level of Chinese professional football, Wu got a great start in his La Liga journey. Now that the team made it into the Europa League, Wu Lei might get an opportunity to show his talents in the inter-European club football tournament. With the experience and confidence accumulated in European leagues, Wu’s skills and performances could significantly improve the national team’s performance as well.
For Espanyol, acquiring Wu Lei was a good deal in terms of boosting the team’s scoring ability and attracting media attention. While before most Chinese football fans were rooting for top La Liga teams such as Real Madrid and Barcelona, these fans are now going to focus on the Barcelona-based Espanyol as well. Thanks to just one player, the club managed to gain the attention of the most populated country in the world.
The latest season has just concluded, but fans have many reasons to have high expectations for the next one. Wu Lei and Espanyol will have much more to offer, and Chinese football fans will be definitely waiting to see Wu play in a major role in the team in the near future.
Featured photo credit to exmoo.com