2019 Quarter-Finals: Ones To Watch
Kuala Lumpur: The 2019 AFC Champions League quarter-finals are now nearly upon us as the eight remaining sides get ready to continue their quest to be crowned Continental champions.
As the first legs of four eagerly awaited contests get set to kick off on Monday, the-AFC.com has picked out one key player from each club who could light up the last eight and help fire their side towards glory.
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Midfielder, Guangzhou Evergrande
Paulinho’s move to Guangzhou in the summer of 2015 reignited his career as he went on to lift the Continental title, win several domestic trophies, earn a recall to the Brazil national team and, in 2017, was signed by FC Barcelona.
A successful title-winning season in Spain followed before the 31-year-old returned to Guangdong after the 2018 FIFA World Cup. He has picked up where he left off, with his goals and energy in midfield key to Guangzhou’s success.
Paulinho’s ability to ghost into the box continues to trouble opposition defences and, with talent such as Talisca and Elkeson ahead of him, his threat is only likely to increase as Guangzhou aim to reach a first semi-final since winning the competition in 2015.
Striker, Al Hilal
79' GOAAAALLL! And another one.— FOX Sports LIVE! (@FSAsiaLive) March 12, 2019
It's Bafétimbi Gomis now who scores Al Hilal's third and celebrates in his typical style. What a game this has turned out to be!#AFCCup2019 #HILvADH pic.twitter.com/pnuhZtRYxe
Bafetimbi Gomis has scored goals at the highest level in his native France, England and Turkey, while he has also earned 12 caps for his country. Now in his first foray into Asia, the striker has already made a strong impression in the AFC Champions League.
Four goals in the group stage was an impressive feat but Gomis’ contribution was even better in the Round of 16 when, on his 34th birthday, he netted a hat-trick away at domestic rivals Al Ahli as Al Hilal’s 4-2 first-leg win all but secured a place in the quarter-finals.
Gomis, whose seven-minute treble for Lyon against Dinamo Zagreb in 2011 remains the fastest-ever UEFA Champions League hat-trick, is powerful, quick and strong in the air and could just be the man to end Al Hilal’s AFC Champions League drought.
Forward, Kashima Antlers
It’s fair to say that, in his short time at Kashima, Serginho has become an AFC Champions League knockout stage specialist. Since arriving in Ibaraki last summer, the forward has scored in six of the eight matches he has played from the Round of 16 onwards.
A focal point of the Kashima attack, it is no surprise that when Serginho’s form dropped during the group stage so did his side’s results as the holders narrowly scraped into the knockout rounds.
Yet a vital goal in the Round of 16 against Sanfrecce Hiroshima showed the Brazilian was back to his best and, should his prolific form at this stage of the competition continue against Guangzhou Evergrande, Kashima’s dreams of retaining the title will be that much closer to reality.
Forward, Al Sadd
30' GOAL!! @AlSaddSC 1-0!!— FOX Sports LIVE! (@FSAsiaLive) August 6, 2019
Al Sadd have finally taken the lead in this Round of 16 tie as Akram Afif takes possession at the edge of the box, cuts across a defender, and fires a low drive into the back of the net! #ACL2019 #ADHvSDD pic.twitter.com/7pVoj29kMI
Long since touted as one of the finest talents in Asia, Akram Afif has really begun to fulfill his potential in 2019, which started with him creating a record-breaking 10 goals in Qatar’s victorious AFC Asian Cup UAE 2019 campaign.
The 22-year-old, who also scored in the victory over Japan in the final, has continued that momentum, winning the Qatar Stars League title with Al Sadd in May and scoring home and away against domestic rivals Al Duhail in the last 16.
Generally deployed on the left, his pace and skill allow him to take on defenders at will, while he also boasts the ability to score from distance. Afif, like many of his Al Sadd teammates, now knows exactly what it takes to achieve success, something that could help the Qatari club lift their first Continental trophy since 2011.
Forward, Shanghai SIPG
The man for the big occasion, Hulk has been at Shanghai SIPG since mid-2016 and holds a strong claim to be among the club’s best-ever signings. In his first full season, he netted nine times in the AFC Champions League en route to a first semi-final.
A year later and the former Porto and Zenit Saint Petersburg forward was instrumental in Shanghai’s march towards a maiden Chinese Super League title, scoring 13 goals and creating a further 12.
The Brazilian, who has recovered from an injury layoff in time for the quarter-final against Urawa Red Diamonds, boasts power, speed, skill and an eye for a goal and will be vital if Shanghai are to become only the second side from China PR to lift the AFC Champions League.
Striker, Al Nassr
If you missed this from a few days ago, few actions to concentrate on over here:— AFC Champions League (@TheAFCCL) August 7, 2019
1️⃣ : The pitch perfect cross from @sultan_ghannam
2️⃣ : The timing and the header from @AbderrazzakHam3
Just keep 🔁. #ACL2019 pic.twitter.com/jBP3tbxhmn
Moroccan striker Abderrazak Hamdallah has scored goals for fun since joining Al Nassr from Qatar’s Al Rayyan in mid-2018.
The 28-year-old, who has posted impressive scoring records in Norway, China and Qatar over the years, proved more than a shrewd acquisition as he netted 34 league goals to finish the Saudi Pro League’s top scorer in Al Nassr’s title-winning 2018-19 campaign.
After only featuring twice in the group stage, Hamdallah was key in the Round of 16, scoring in both legs against Al Wahda as the Riyadh side progressed to the last eight. Having fired Al Nassr to domestic glory, his next task will be to help them upset the odds on the Continent.
Striker, Urawa Red Diamonds
One of the most popular players amongst the Urawa Red Diamonds support, Shinzo Koroki has taken his scoring feats to greater levels at this year’s edition of the AFC Champions League, something surely noted by their quarter-final opponents Shanghai SIPG.
Having scored four in the entire 2017 campaign that saw the Saitama side lift the title, Koroki had already netted three by the end of the 2019 group stage with important goals in the final two Group E matches against Buriram United and Beijing FC.
But by far his most important contribution so far came against Ulsan Hyundai. With Urawa 2-1 down from the first leg, Koroki stepped up to the plate with a pair of fine goals to wrest the initiative back to his side. If he can continue to find the net when it is most needed, Urawa could match their 2017 glory.
Striker, Al Ittihad
⚽ We're in to the business end of the #ACL2019 group stage with the conclusion of Matchday 5️⃣!— AFC Champions League (@TheAFCCL) May 9, 2019
Vote for your favourite goal of the week here! 👉 https://t.co/bsiVzbhoP6
💯 Mohammad Al Shalhoub
💥 Kim Dae-won
🏃♂️ Hulk pic.twitter.com/umBbq8xIbj
Romarinho knows what it takes to find the net in the Continent’s premier club competition, having enjoyed success with three different sides in three different nations since swapping South America for Asia in 2014.
Stand-out campaigns remain the 2016 edition, where the Brazilian helped Qatar’s El Jaish to the semi-finals, and last year’s run with the UAE’s Al Jazira that saw a Round of 16 finish before he signed on the dotted line with Al Ittihad.
With the Jeddah side, Romarinho has again proved to be the man to play a focal point in the attack, scoring in three games running in the group stage before adding a further two to his tally as they eliminated Zobahan in the Round of 16.
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