In-form Wu raring to take up Zheng's mantle
Beijing: The age of 30 is a pivotal year for the Chinese. It’s a period during which a man should "establish his firm place in the world" as Confucius defined.
That words of wisdom rings true for China PR midfielder Wu Xi, who has recently hit the headlines due to his solid performances.
The dynamic midfielder, who turned 30 in February, has been on top of his game for both club and country. Wu has excelled so far in his captaincy role with Jiangsu Suning, as his club are maintaining their place among the top six in the Chinese Super League.
While at international level, he was instrumental throughout China’s AFC Asian Cup UAE 2019 campaign where they were ultimately knocked out at the quarter-final stage.
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All the more notable is that he is winning the faith of national team head coach Marcello Lippi ever since the Italian was re-appointed in May.
With China captain Zheng Zhi turning 39 later this month, Wu is widely regarded as the right man to take up the mantle from former the AFC Player of the Year, and to lead the team on their quest to qualify for a second FIFA World Cup at Qatar 2022.
Wu, however, opted to downplay these expectations when speaking with FIFA.com in a recent exclusive interview.
"Few in this national team can surpass Zheng Zhi (pictured above) in terms of achievements, I’m afraid," said Wu. “He is the big brother of the team. For me, I just want to be myself and do my job well. It is always important to remember what you shall do rather than who you are likened with.
"Of course, I want to make more of an impact with the national team and I want to help the team have a successful World Cup qualifying campaign.
"There are more and more young players in the team, and as a veteran, it’s my duty to help them with my experiences, to influence them through my attitude. I would like them to see that football is a game brimming with hope and positive energy."
Wu broke into the national team in 2011, making his debut in a 6-1 win against Laos in a Brazil 2014 qualifier. He hasn’t looked back since, featuring in the qualifying campaigns for the past two World Cups as well as the past two AFC Asian Cup Finals.
Notably, his no-nonsense playing style and relentless attacking instincts make him stand out in Lippi’s transitional team.
"When I was young, I was usually deployed as an attacker, so I am used to going forward and attacking. All these years, I’ve been working hard to improve my skills and enhance my reading of the game, and I’m glad that I’ve reached the level that I want.”
China, having already qualified for the AFC Asian Cup 2023 which they will host, will open their qualifying campaign for Qatar 2022 in September in a group that features Syria, Philippines, Maldives and Guam. While it perhaps looks like a kind draw for China in the eyes of fans and media alike, Wu was clear that nothing can be taken for granted.
“You have to respect the rivals and there are no minnow teams in World Cup qualifying. First of all, you must make sure that you win the game and seal the three points. We learned that lesson during the same stage of qualifying for the last World Cup, when we were held to goalless draws both home and away by Hong Kong.”
Syria are likely to pose the biggest threat for Lippi’s side. They inflicted a solitary-goal defeat on China in the two sides’ first leg on the Road to Russia 2018. Wu was on target in the return match, striking in the second half to give China a 2-1 lead only to see his side concede an injury-time goal to draw 2-2, a result that cost China dearly.
“Syria are a resilient team, and like us, they long for victory. But I think we can defeat them this time around. We will press them hard to achieve the result we want.”
Sources: FIFA.com, AFP, AFC
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