Wu: Beating Real Madrid was a morale-booster for the qualifiers

  • Wu Lei’s heroics snatched China PR their first victory in Group B

  • He reflects that game and the upcoming clash against Saudi Arabia

  • ‘Goal King Wu’ can’t wait to play in front of fans again

When China PR and Vietnam met last Thursday in qualifying for the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022™, both teams knew they had to win. Having each suffered back-to-back losses in Group B, they knew they needed nothing short of victory in their third outing. In what proved to be a thriller, the Chinese ran out 3-2 winners courtesy of their go-to star, Wu Lei. The Espanyol man initiated a move from which Zhang Yuning broke the deadlock, before scoring a brace as his side kept their hopes still alive.

“The past month was very difficult for us considering what we have gone through," the 29-year-old told FIFA.com, referring to the pressure they shouldered after losing their opening two matches in Group B. “We were in a difficult position after the first two games and we were aware that we faced a must-win scenario against Vietnam if we were to keep our hopes alive in this campaign. “We were satisfied with the result. It was a hard-fought victory. We had decided that this was a good opportunity for us to gain points and we entered the match determined to win.” It was a game marked out with tension and drama. China went 2-0 up with 15 minutes to go, but Vietnam battled back to equalise when the clock hit 90. With the final whistle moments away, Wu headed home the winner deep into stoppage-time. “After taking a two-goal lead, we didn't keep up the pressure and allowed the rivals to produce chances,” said Wu. “In this campaign, all teams are strong and you will gift them chances and concede goals if you lose your concentration. "But we are a team with a united cause and we believed that we would win. We were never going to give up until the final whistle. It was the collective efforts which carried us through." Wu was a second-half substitute in Espanyol's stunning 2-1 victory over Real Madrid recently. "It was definitely a morale-booster for me to win a game in La Liga before joining the national team,” he said. “Especially as we defeated a team like Real Madrid. It was a good experience which helped enhance my confidence ahead of the match."

The in-form striker, affectionately nicknamed as ‘Goal King Wu’ by his adoring fans, has come to China’s rescue on more than one occasion. He was superb in Russia 2018 qualifying, and has netted ten goals in the Asian preliminaries for Qatar 2022 – a total bettered only by United Arab Emirates striker Ali Mabkhout. “As the fourth-ranked team in this group, we lost to the top two ranked sides (Australia and Japan),” he said. “But the win against Vietnam eased our tension and I am hoping we can enter the following matches with a better state of mind and can achieve good results.” Next up are regional giants Saudi Arabia, who downed Japan 1-0 in their last outing to make it nine points from a possible nine. China, however, have a good record in the fixture in World Cup qualifying, winning four and drawing one of their last five meetings. “The most important thing is that we need to get mentally prepared for the game,” said Wu. “We will play away in Saudi Arabia and it will be the first game for us to play in front of spectators in this campaign. We are really looking forward to that.”