Espanyol’s China ‘hero’ grabs point from Barca

BARCELONA • Wu Lei’s late equalizer against Barcelona heralds “a new chapter” in Chinese football, the country’s media declared yesterday, as the forward’s heroics went viral.

The Chinese international came off the bench. Then his goal two minutes from time salvaged a 2-2 home draw for Espanyol, La Liga’s bottom side.

Barcelona looked to be heading for a comeback win. But Wu broke free down the right side of the area to receive a pass from Matias Vargas. Then drove an angled shot past goalkeeper Neto.

It came after Luis Suarez and Arturo Vidal had overturned David Lopez’s first-half opener. Only Frenkie de Jong’s red card for a second bookable offense to hand the momentum back to the hosts in Saturday night’s derby clash.

Wu’s strike is the first goal by a Chinese player against Barcelona. It was a huge talking point on the country’s social media channels and a trending topic on Weibo.

China’s equivalent of Twitter had a related hashtag that generated over 370 million views, while state media also praised the forward.

The China Global Television Network said he had “single-handedly revitalized Espanyol” against the Spanish champions. They also added: “For Wu, it was a night that will live long in the memory.”

Wu later wrote on Weibo: “Wonderful night, a new year, a good start.”

It was just his fifth league goal for Chinese-owned Espanyol. Since he moved to the club from Shanghai SIPG a year ago. And it is only his second La Liga strike of the campaign.

China’s new coach Li Tie will be relying on the Nanjing native to help rescue the country’s hopes of reaching the 2022 World Cup in Qatar and make only their second appearance at the quadrennial tournament.

His second-placed side is eight points behind leaders Syria (15) in Group A, with four games left to play. Only the four best runners-up across all eight groups will advance to the Cup qualifying third round.

On Wu, who has 18 goals from 67 caps. Everton midfielder Li yesterday said: “He currently is the only Chinese player in one of the five major football leagues. I watched the game last night and this (goal) is really something that brings honor to Chinese football.”

Barcelona was left to bemoan their inability to put away their crosstown rivals. Abelardo Fernandez, had a new face in the dugout for the third time this season. Espanyol is bidding to avoid relegation for the first time in 27 years.

Claiming Barcelona were their own worst enemy. Suarez said: “We did the hardest thing, which is to come from behind away from home and take the lead. So it feels like two points dropped. We are the champions and we are obliged to win every game so we need to come up with some solutions.”

His coach Ernesto Valverde also pinned their stumble on de Jong’s sending off, insisting “it did us a lot of damage”.

It meant rivals Real Madrid pulled level with Barcelona at the top of the table, behind only on goal difference, after a 3-0 win over Getafe earlier on Saturday.

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