Wu wows 'em in season finale

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Wu Lei hugs his daughter after leading Espanyol to a 2-0 La Liga victory over Real Sociedad at RCDE Stadium on Saturday. It was Wu's third goal of the season and helped Espanyol return to Europa League qualification for the first time in 12 years. XINHUA

It was a fairytale finish.

Wu Lei ended his first La Liga season in style on Saturday, with tens of thousands of Espanyol fans chanting the Chinese striker's name after he scored in the 65th minute to secure a 2-0 victory over Real Sociedad at RCDE Stadium.

More importantly, the victory helped Espanyol return to Europa League qualification after 12 years.

After notching his third goal of the season, Wu doffed his shirt and ran towards the thrilled spectators to celebrate the moment.

Fans flooded the field following the match, and one supporter hoisted Wu on his shoulders to exchange high fives with the adoring throng.

The scene ignited Chinese social media, with related topics attracting more than 60 million views on Weibo as of Sunday afternoon.

"I really enjoyed this, and we knew we must win the last game of this season," Wu said after match.

"Before the game, we really did not think too much about our opponent; we just wanted to have a victory to end the season.

"It has always been my dream to play in a top foreign league. I have only been here for half a year, and now we have a chance to play in the Europa League next season.

"It has been a terrific experience for me and a chance to learn more about the world's best soccer league.

"With more games to play in the future, I will continue to adjust to the pace of La Liga."

The victory also made Espanyol coach Rubi emotional.

"I haven't cried for a very long time, but I have tears of joy today," he said.

"I saw many of our players crying, too. This is a memorable moment for our club that will last forever. I sincerely thank every player, staff and fan of our club. We are a team and our effort has been rewarded.

"We had an amazing performance in the second half of the match and we deserve the seventh place in La Liga this season. I believe our tactics have been accepted by the players, and the fans love our style."

Wu suited up for 16 games with Espanyol and was part of the starting XI 12 times after making his debut as a 78th-minute substitute for defender Didac Vila in February.

The 27-year-old became the first Chinese to score in La Liga with his 65th-minute goal to secure a 3-1 win over Valladolid in March.

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

Wu's motivation in La Liga has never been money; he considers his time in Espanyol a golden opportunity to grow Chinese soccer.

According to Tencent Sports, Chinese-owned Espanyol paid Chinese Super League side Shanghai SIPG around two million euros ($2.28 million) for Wu, who is reportedly earning about one million euros ($1.14 million) per year - half his salary in China.

"I want to show fans around the globe that there are players in China who can shine in the world's best soccer league," Wu said when he made the move.

Currently, Wu is the only Chinese international playing in a top European league. China's ambition is to send more homegrown players overseas to improve in more competitive environments.

"Congratulations to Wu Lei, who scored a fabulous goal in the last game of the season," said Han Qiaosheng, renowned sports commentator and TV anchor in China,

"Wu will have more chances to grow and a bigger platform on which to display his talent in the Europa League.

"He is a great inspiration to Chinese soccer players. They should learn from Wu, who is now a role model.

"The best way for Chinese soccer to develop is to send our players to the best foreign leagues."

According to Titan Sports, Wu will receive offseason surgery on a shoulder injury he sustained at the 2019 Asian Cup in the United Arab Emirates.

He was given medical clearance before his Espanyol debut and decided to continue playing with the injury.

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