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ACL semi-finalists rise to the fore in international break

Kuala Lumpur: Matchdays Three and Four of the Asian Qualifiers took place over the last week with several of the stars from the four 2019 AFC Champions League semi-finalists turning out for their respective countries.

China PR's Guangzhou Evergrande, Urawa Red Diamonds of Japan, Qatari club Al Sadd and Saudi Arabia's Al Hilal will resume their quest to become Asia's kings next week when the AFC Champions League recommences with the second legs of the semi-finals.

Before then, looks at how their international stars got on for their nations in the most recent rounds of the Asian Qualifiers for the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 and AFC Asian Cup China 2023.

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Al Sadd

Of the semi-finalists, Al Sadd supplied the most players for their countries with eight joining the Qatar national team and two more on national duty for Korea Republic.

Goalkeeper Saad Al Sheeb kept a clean sheet in the opener against Bangladesh in the 2-0 win in Dhaka, although would have been disappointed that his streak of blanks ended at three games after conceding against Oman in the 2-1 victory in Al Wakrah.

Star forward Akram Afif netted the opener against the Omanis and started both ties, as did Abdelkarim Hassan, Salem Al Hajri and Boualem Khoukhi.

Midfielder Hasan Al Haydos came off the bench against Bangladesh and captained the side against Oman, while Tarek Salman and Pedro Miguel joined him in the starting 11 after not featuring in Dhaka.

For Al Sadd's two Korea Republic internationals, Jung Woo-young played the full 90 minutes in the historic tie against DPR Korea in Pyongyang, which ended goalless, while Nam Tae-hee had a 15-minute cameo off the bench against Sri Lanka.

Guangzhou Evergrande

While semi-final opponents Urawa did not have any players selected for Japan, Guangzhou, who will host next week's semi-final second leg, had seven players called up for national duty.

The bulk of those were in the squad for Marcello Lippi's China PR side with forward Elkeson and defender Zhang Linpeng playing the full matches against both Guam and Philippines.

Elkeson was on the scoresheet in the 7-0 win over Guam at Tianhe Stadium last week, but was blanked by the Azkals defence on Tuesday, while Zhang Linpeng will have been content with clean sheets in both ties.

Forward Wei Shihao started against Guam but was substituted without a goal for Hao Junmin on 73 minutes, and did not make the matchday squad against Philippines.

Neither goalkeeper Zeng Cheng, defender Gao Zhunyi, midfielders Zheng Zhi and Xu Xin nor Yang Liyu saw playing time despite earning call-ups ahead of Matchday Three.

Defender Park Ji-soo did see action for Korea Republic, playing 68 minutes of the tie against Sri Lanka. He also travelled to Pyongyang for the match against DPR Korea on Tuesday but was an unused substitute.

Al Hilal

Six of the players who helped Al Hilal to a 4-1 win over Al Sadd in their semi-final first leg were selected by Herve Renard for Saudi Arabia's Group D ties against Singapore and Palestine.

Of those, attacking full-backs Yasser Al Shahrani and Mohammed Al Burayk as well as winger Hattan Bahebri played the full 180 minutes as the Green Falcons took full points against the Southeast Asians in a 3-0 win, before being held to a goalless draw by Palestine.

Midfielder Abdullah Otayf came off the bench against Singapore, but played the full 90 against Palestine. Otayf's partner in the centre of the park for Al Hilal, Salman Al Faraj, took the captain's armband against the Palestinians.

Despite scoring against Al Sadd in the first leg, defender Ali Al Bulayhi was an unused substitute against both Singapore and Palestine.

With the international action now on the backburner until Matchdays Five and Six in November, all eyes are now turned towards the AFC Champions League.

The semi-final second legs kick off on October 22 with Al Sadd attempting to overcome the 4-1 deficit against Al Hilal in Riyadh, while a day later Guangzhou will try to come back from two goals down against Urawa in southern China.

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