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Jean Evrard Kouassi of Wuhan Zall celebrates a goal against Shijiazhuang Ever Bright in the Chinese Super League relegation play-off. Photo: Xinhua

Wuhan Zall secure Chinese Super League survival and possible 60 million yuan in play-off win

  • Team from city at epicentre of Covid-19 outbreak can breathe sigh of relief after avoiding relegation to second tier
  • Penalty from captain Li Hang settles second leg against Zhejiang Greentown
Wuhan Zall could finally breathe a sigh of relief on Sunday after securing their Chinese Super League status for next season with a 1-0 over Zhejiang Greentown in Dalian.

Captain Li Hang’s 28th minute penalty made the score 3-2 on aggregate and it would prove decisive. Li had only just returned from injury for the relegation play-off that saw Shijiazhuang Ever Bright relegated and gave Wuhan one last chance at survival.

It could be worth at least 60 million yuan (US$9.15 million) to the team.

Reports in the mainland said each CSL club received that as a dividend in the 2019 season, with 90 per cent of the total purse shared among the league’s 16 teams and the rest allocated based on final position.

The impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on the prize purse for the 2020 season is yet to be confirmed.

These teams had played out a dramatic 2-2 draw in the first leg of the promotion-relegation play-off last week, when Zhejiang’s South African striker Dino Ndlovu netted a 95th minute equaliser from the spot.

Kouassi double ensures Wuhan’s longest season not over yet

Zhejiang had finished second in the second tier this season – three points behind champions Changchun Yatai in the promotion mini-table – and were one game away from a first return to the top flight since they were relegated in 2016.

Wuhan, meanwhile, had finished in midtable during the first stage of the season but moved on to the relegation-deciding second stage as they finished in the bottom half of their eight-team group.

They then failed to secure their CSL status over two legs against Henan Jianye or Qingdao Huanghai to move on to the Shijiazhuang play-off.

Leo Baptistao (left) and Li Xing of Wuhan Zall celebrate beating Shijiazhuang to earn a play-off with Zhejiang Greentown. Photo: Xinhua

“Many of our players, especially the foreign ones, got injured in this year’s CSL. Even though, they held out from the opening ceremony to the last play-offs,” Wuhan Zall coach Pang Li said.

The club are still in the Chinese FA Cup, in which they face Taizhou Yuanda on Saturday, but they could be forgiven for acting as if the season is essentially over now the CSL remains a reality.

It has been a long season for the players and staff.

Wuhan Zall on brink of ‘cruel’ CSL relegation after nightmare year

Long before the CSL was postponed from its February start date, the club, many of whose staff are Wuhan natives, were locked out of the city as it battled the coronavirus outbreak.

First they were in a training camp in Guangdong before travelling to Spain under then coach Jose Gonzalez, the man who replaced Li Tie. The Spaniard was later replaced by Pang Li.

The team found themselves trapped in southern Spain with other clubs unwilling to play preseason games because of unfounded coronavirus fears.

Goalkeeper Dong Chunyu of Wuhan Zall makes a save during the play-off against Shijiazhuang Ever Bright. Photo: Xinhua

Players and staff were only able to communicate with their families through social media.

It was 104 days before they could return to Wuhan. The team then had to relocate to Suzhou for the CSL bubble for the first 10 weeks of the delayed season. This was followed up with the longest stay in Dalian for the play-offs.

This article appeared in the South China Morning Post print edition as: Wuhan Zall stay in top flight after play-off victory