China international, club captain and star forward as Shenzhen Jianlibao grabbed the title last year, everything seemed to be going right for Li Yi. But somehow, somewhere the 26-year-old misplaced his shooting boots. His two goals - the second the extra-time winner - over Al Ahli in the AFC Champions League quarter-final second leg were his first for a shocking 168 days.
With a smile stretched from ear to the other, man-of-the-moment Li Yi sat down with FIFA.com to talk about the semi-final clash with Al Ain, Shenzhen's domestic slide and how it felt to score again.
FIFA.com: Congratulations on reaching the semi-finals and finally finding the net.
Li Yi: Thanks. My team-mates and I are all very happy. As you know, 2005 has been a very difficult year for our club. We've had financial difficulties and it's hit the team's morale. We've struggled and finding ourselves fourth from bottom and personally not finding the net since 9 April has been hard to swallow after last season.
Going so long without a goal must have been hard. How did you cope with the pressure?
I should thank my coach (Guo Ruilong) who never lost faith in me, my team-mates who always encouraged me and the fans and media who have not been too critical. But yes I've been under big pressure. It's not easy to describe how much. You can't imagine how embarrassing not scoring for that much time could be for a striker. But with those goals I felt like a long-time dead volcano erupting.
You seem to have developed a habit of scoring crucial goals though. You also scored twice against Shanghai Shenhua in the penultimate match of last season, securing the title…
(Laughs) That is not totally true. You must remember I didn't covert a good chance against Japan in last year's Asian Cup final which we lost 3-1 and I also failed to get my head onto a cross in our (China's) crucial 1-0 FIFA World Cup qualifying loss to Kuwait. But a professional player should never give up. Hard work will be repaid one day.
Was Wednesday's result a turning point for both you and Shenzhen?
Only time will tell but one thing's for sure: these continental victories help lift our image and boost morale. We've rediscovered winning ways and spirits are sky high going into the semi-finals.
Your next rivals are the 2003 champions Al Ain. What do you expect from them?
To be honest, we know as much or as little about them as we did about our previous opponents Al Ahli. No teams are easy in the knockout stage and the two-legged semi-final will be a tough test for us. But we're happy to be playing the away match first as we've already pulled off two good victories at home when we've needed them.
Does this mean you will employ the same tactics as the quarter-final: defending in the first leg before pushing hard for the win in the return match at home?
That's a question for my coach. What I would say though is that we should not be underestimated. We'll never give up no matter who we face.
You are China's only representatives in the semi-finals. How does that feel?
Well, we're a young team and it's our first time playing in the Champions League. To be honest, we're not the strongest side in the Chinese Super League: we don't have the financial power of Shandong Luneng or Inter Shanghai. But we have a never-say-die spirit and it has been this mental strength that has carried us through so many stiff challenges. We're representing China and that's why we give 100 per cent.
Do you have a favourite to meet in the final? The champions Al Ittihad defeated your rivals Shandong 8-3.
I'm just thinking about the next match with Al Ain. Don't forget the proverb "A meal cannot be eaten in one spoon."
At 26, you're at the peak of your powers. What is your ultimate goal as a football player?
Representing China at a FIFA World Cup finals is my dream, and the dream of everyone I think. Missing out this time left a bitter taste but we believe we can do it next time round.