Red-hot Wu rides to Espanyol's rescue

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Espanyol's Wu Lei is tracked by Sevilla defender Reguilon as the Chinese striker prepares to deliver a cross during Sunday's La Liga match at Estadio Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan in Seville, Spain.

Chinese ace Wu Lei reminded everyone of his quality with a typical poacher's goal as he impressed with a man-of-the-match performance on his return to Espanyol's starting XI on Sunday.

Wu had started his team's previous seven La Liga games on the bench but seized his chance to shine after record signing Raul de Tomas was ruled out through injury.

Former Shanghai SIPG star Wu instinctually pounced on a hopeful punt forward after outmuscling his marker before applying a clinical 50th-minute finish to give Espanyol a 2-1 lead in Seville.

A late Suso equalizer denied the visitor what would have been a huge three points in its fight for La Liga survival. However, one point away at fifth-placed Sevilla was nonetheless an encouraging result for the Barcelona-based side, while Wu's return to scoring form was a lift for both his team and Chinese fans back home who closely follow his progress in Spain's top flight.

Content related to Wu's strike generated over 700 million views on Weibo by Monday morning, with many fans urging Espanyol to restore Wu as a regular starter for the remainder of the campaign.

"I'm also thrilled. The goal is significant to the team and myself," said Wu, whose team remains bottom of La Liga, level on points with Leganes and two points from safety.

"In such a difficult situation, we finally got this one point. We are now more confident. I hope we can have more wins in the future."

The 28-year-old China international later wrote on his personal Weibo account:"This was a very difficult match, but we played as a very united team. Each point we get now will be significant for us to avoid being relegated. This goal means good luck to me, and I want to share this with all the people who are in tough situations. I believe everything can get better and better."

Wu has racked up numerous milestones during his time in Spain, including a historic goal in the Catalan derby against Barcelona last month. However, his La Liga career has undoubtedly been a bumpy ride.

His arrival last year helped steer Espanyol away from the relegation zone but, despite going on to qualify for the Europa League, the club has since struggled for stability.

Espanyol has changed head coach four times since the offseason and, with Wu never certain of a starting berth this term, this year's relegation battle looks like going right down to the wire.

Responding to concerns over his lack of game time, Wu last week acknowledged that he was enduring a rough patch.

"I don't have much playing time recently, and I've seen many online comments," Wu wrote on his personal blog. "I understand all your concerns. The best that I can do now is to try my best to maintain my condition and train harder and harder. I remember a year before, I scored after coming off the bench. I had the confidence at that time, and I do now.

"Our priority for each game now is to win the three points, and avoiding relegation is the most important goal now. I hope people can focus more on the performance of the team. To get more points, I can't think too much about this. It's not a time to calculate personal gains and losses."

Espanyol head coach Abelardo Fernandez, who was appointed in December, singled out Wu for praise following his scoring exploits at Sevilla. The 49-year-old former Spain international described Wu's performance as "phenomenal" and was particularly pleased with his tireless work rate up front.

Chinese soccer icon Sun Jihai was equally impressed, citing both Wu's strike and South Korean Son Heung-min's late winner for Tottenham Hotspur at Aston Villa as more evidence that Asia's elite players can cut it in the world's top leagues.

"Last night Wu Lei and Son Heung-min both scored significant goals," said former Manchester City defender Sun on Monday. "Both their performances thrilled me… I hope more Asian players can become key players in top European leagues.

"It's not true that Asian players are at a disadvantage in soccer. We should never be trapped by this idea. We can't doubt ourselves even before we walk into battle. I'm expecting Wu Lei to produce even better performances in La Liga in the near future."

Wu's goals helped Shanghai SIPG to the 2018 Chinese Super League title, however rather than remain in his comfort zone, he decided to test himself at a higher level.

"Like I said many times, I want to enjoy the pure soccer environment here," Wu wrote on his blog. "So I need to face the positive competition inside this team. The only way to grow stronger is to face the difficulty directly. I will make more contributions to my team with a better mentality."

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