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Wuhan Zall escape CSL relegation to end tough year on high

Shanghai (AFP) – Wuhan Zall avoided relegation from the Chinese Super League on the last day Sunday, ensuring a triumphant end to a turbulent year for the team from ground zero of the coronavirus.

In front of 2,000 travelling fans decked out in the club’s orange colours, Wuhan beat Zhejiang Greentown 1-0 in Suzhou for a 3-2 aggregate victory in their two-legged play-off.

It was fitting that the goal that kept Wuhan in the CSL was scored by Li Hang, their captain who was born in the city.

The 31-year-old midfielder confidently converted a penalty on the half hour and Wuhan clung on in the second half even as Greentown, who finished second in the second division, pushed for an equaliser.

At the final whistle all of the Wuhan players and coaching staff went over to the corner of the stadium where their fans were to applaud them. 

At least one player was in tears and some fans were bare-chested after tearing off their tops in celebration.

“This victory is totally different from the others,” said match-winner and Wuhan native Li, who ran the length of the pitch to celebrate his goal with the fans.

“You can only feel the cruelty and pressure when you are actually playing with your team-mates.

“I’m glad we made it through. We survived.”

It has been a hugely testing year for Wuhan Zall and their supporters.

The squad were stranded in Spain, where they were in pre-season training, after the central city of 11 million people was placed on a strict lockdown in January.

But when the virus began to take hold in Europe, Wuhan struggled to return to China because of travel restrictions and flight disruption.

They landed in southern China in mid-March, were then quarantined, before finally getting home in April. The team spent 104 days in exile.

The CSL began in July, five months late because of the pandemic, but after a good start Wuhan’s form dipped alarmingly and they found themselves in a relegation dogfight in recent weeks.

As part of a revamped format, the team that finished 15th of the 16 CSL clubs faced the team that was second in the second tier for a place in next season’s top flight.

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