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Wu's historic goal fuels China's dream

By SHI FUTIAN | China Daily | Updated: 2019-03-04 09:26
Espanyol's Wu Lei during the presentation, CDE Stadium, Barcelona, Spain, Jan 29, 2019. [Photo/Agencies]

Wu Lei's first goal in La Liga on Saturday night touched off wild celebrations among Chinese fans-some of whom even wept with joy.

Wu, who led the Chinese Super League in scoring last season before joining Espanyol last month, tallied in the 65th minute in his new club's 3-1 win over Valladolid.

It had been 3,731 days since midfielder Shao Jiayi was the last Chinese male player to score in a top European league when he netted for Cottbus in the Bundesliga on Dec 13, 2008.

Wu's feat ignited China's social media as news of his goal became the third most trendy topic on Weibo only an hour after the match ended.

Through Sunday afternoon, related topics had been viewed almost 60 million times.

Countless domestic fans used the same phrase-"Wu is the hope of us all!"-to comment beneath nearly every related online news item.

"I'm so excited! Several months ago I was scoring in the Chinese Super League, but now I've scored in La Liga. It's just dreamy for me," said the 27-year-old, whose 27 goals helped Shanghai SIPG win the CSL title last season.

"I really want to thank my teammates for their support since the first day I arrived. I was able to score only because my teammate made a great pass to create the opportunity.

"During the halftime break, the coach told me to remain calm in the second half. He believed there would be an opportunity for me to score. So when I had the chance, I kept calm. It was easier to score as long as I wasn't too excited.

"After the match everyone on the team congratulated me. As I said before, I felt this team is more like a family since the first day I got here, and I believe we can only get better.

"I will always remember this moment. I'm so proud to be the first Chinese player to score in La Liga."

Wu's performance also earned kudos from Espanyol coach Rubi, who said the player has already become a vital part of the team.

The coach said Wu has fit into the squad very quickly, describing him as "a floating feather with great flexibility and speed."

Wu's historic goal also attracted international media attention.

The Independent newspaper in Britain commented that "Wu Lei's presentation as an Espanyol player had an online reach of some 350 million, unlocking the potential for a superstar if their figures are correct and he can keep scoring goals."

According to Tencent Sports, Chinese-owned Espanyol paid Shanghai SIPG around two million euros ($2.28 million) for Wu, who will reportedly earn about one million euros per year-half of his salary in China.

In return, the CSL's player of the year last season has brought the club unprecedented fan growth. Sales of Wu's replica Espanyol jersey have exceeded 10,000 in China, according to the La Liga club's official shirt maker, Kelme.

A homegrown superstar is exactly what Chinese soccer needs now.

China's deputy sports minister Du Zhaocai highlighted the urgency of finding a domestic star at a Chinese Football Association conference in Wuhan, Hubei province, last winter.

"If there's no superstar, Chinese soccer will never step out of Asia," said Du.

"To find and nurture a major star of our own is equally important as the overall development of Chinese soccer."

On the day he signed with Espanyol, Wu vowed to prove a Chinese player could shine in a top European league. After Saturday's spectacular effort, he's well on the way.

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