Zhang takes pride in historic La Liga debut

Rayo Vallecano's Chinese defender Zhang Chengdong (left) watching on as Atletico Madrid's Argentinian forward Angel Correa celebrates after scoring. Rayo lost 0-2 in the final minutes of the game.
Rayo Vallecano's Chinese defender Zhang Chengdong (left) watching on as Atletico Madrid's Argentinian forward Angel Correa celebrates after scoring. Rayo lost 0-2 in the final minutes of the game.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

MADRID • Zhang Chengdong made history on Wednesday when he became the first Chinese football player to play in La Liga.

The defender came on as a 82nd-minute substitute for Rayo Vallecano in their 2-0 defeat at home to rivals Atletico Madrid.

Rayo - fresh from conceding 10 to Real Madrid last time out - looked set to keep a clean sheet after their defence stood firm for 88 minutes at Vallecas.

However, changes made by Atletico manager Diego Simeone swung the game in the visitors' favour as Thomas Partey teed up substitute Angel Correa to smash home his first goal in three months.

Another substitute Jackson Martinez then played in Antoine Griezmann to register his 13th goal of the season with a lovely dinked finish two minutes later.

BLOOD, SWEAT AND TEARS

Having played two Cup matches and a short 10 minutes today is the greatest reward for all the hard work in the last six months!

ZHANG CHENGDONG, on making his Spanish La Liga debut

"It was a tough battle and we managed to break through at the end," Correa told reporters. "(Simeone) just told me to go on and help the team to win and luckily we did."

The late goals marred Zhang's debut, with the headline on Chinese website qq.com screaming "Really awkward! Once Zhang comes on Rayo go 0-2 down".

But he was determined to take positives from his maiden league appearance.

The 26-year-old wrote on China's Twitter-like Sina Weibo: "Played 10 minutes at left-back when we played with three at the back today! What a pity that we lost!

"Having played two Cup matches and a short 10 minutes today is the greatest reward for all the hard work in the last six months! True strength is only cultivated through setbacks!"

He joined Rayo, who are sponsored by Chinese company qbao.com, from Beijing Guoan during the summer. But the China international needed time to adapt to the Spanish game.

His only two previous appearances for the club came in the King's Cup, helping Rayo qualify for the last 16 on away goals against Getafe.

China had waited 1,713 days for a player to feature in one of Europe's top-five leagues.

Midfielder Hao Junmin was the last to do so, when he represented Schalke in the Bundesliga on April 23, 2011.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, XINHUA

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 01, 2016, with the headline 'Zhang takes pride in historic La Liga debut'. Print Edition | Subscribe