Shanghai: While Brazilian superstar Oscar may have taken the majority of the plaudits – and the match ball – after Shanghai SIPG’s 5-0 AFC Champions League Group H win over Ulsan Hyundai on Tuesday, for one player it was an extra-special night at Shanghai Stadium.
Needing a win to secure a place in the last 16, Oscar’s first-half brace calmed any nerves among the Chinese Super League champions, before Li Shenglong added a third – his first-ever goal in the competition – to effectively secure the three points and qualification.
Oscar grabbed his hat-trick soon after and Hu Jinghang rounded off the scoring late on as Shanghai progressed to the knockout rounds for the fourth successive year and Li was left with a night to remember.
“My first goal in the AFC Champions League is something I’ll remember for the rest of my career,” admitted the 26-year-old forward, who has been with the club since 2013.
“Last night when I got back to my hotel, I could hardly sleep – the goal, the moment, the atmosphere among the fans, it was like a movie that kept playing over and over in my head all night long.
“But, after the excitement, I believe that my first goal in the competition is only the beginning. If the coach gives me more chances, I promise I will repay him.”
In a side brimming with attacking talent, Li has found it tough to nail down a place in the starting line-up over the years.
But, with the prolific Wu Lei having left for Spanish side Espanyol earlier in the year and with an injury to the inspirational Hulk, Li was handed his second start of the Group H campaign.
And, with the hosts needing three points to claim a place in the next round, Li took the opportunity with both hands by playing the full 90 minutes – more than his combined total on the pitch prior to Matchday Six – as Shanghai continued their quest for a first AFC Champions League title.
“The key to winning the match was unity; we have put in such a big effort in recent months and Tuesday’s performance was the result of all this hard work,” added Li, whose side will next face two-time champions Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors of Korea Republic.
“The result will give us a lot of confidence and we’re now looking forward to the next match, while injured players like Shi Ke and Lu Wenjun could return very soon.
“As long as we play our game to the best of our ability, we will not fear any other team in this tournament. We are full of confidence and looking forward to the Jeonbuk match.”