Ones to Watch: West Asia
Amman: As eight West Asian teams battle for four spots in the 2019 AFC Champions League quarter-finals, they will be looking for their talismen to lead by example.
Ahead of West Asia's Round of 16 first leg encounters, the-AFC.com looks at eight players who could make the difference for their respective teams.
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Abderrazaq Hamdallah - Al Nassr
Moroccan striker Abderrazaq Hamadallah is entering his sixth season in Asian football, having represented China PR’s Guangzhou R&F, then moving to Qatar where he wore the shirts of El Jaish and Al Rayyan before joining Al Nassr last summer. And while Hamdallah has topped 100 goals in this period, his AFC Champions League records stands at just two goals.
The 29-year-old’s career at Al Nassr so far has followed a similar pattern. Hamdallah broke the all-time record for goals scored in a single Saudi Pro League season, netting 35 times to propel Al Nassr to the league title. But injuries limited his involvement in the 2019 AFC Champions League group stage to just 180 minutes in which he scored one goal. The Moroccan will hope the new season brings more goals for him in the knockout stages, starting with Monday’s clash against Al Wahda.
Leonardo - Al Wahda
If there was one player to credit with Al Wahda’s first knockout stage appearance in 12 years, it would be 27-year-old winger Leonardo. The Brazilian scored eight of his side’s 14 goals in the group stage, helping himself to the top of the competition’s scoring charts going into the Round of 16.
Leonardo joined Al Wahda from Saudi Arabia’s Al Ahli in August 2018 and made an instant impact at Al Nahyan Stadium, scoring 13 goals in 21 league games and adding eight in the AFC Champions League. His next challenge is to guide his side to victory against Al Nassr, a side he could not score against while in Al Ahli colours.
Romarinho - Al Ittihad
With Nasser Al Shamrani’s contract expiring and Fahad Al Muwallad serving a one-year suspension, the burden to supply goals for Al Ittihad now largely sits on the shoulders of Romarinho. The Brazilian scored in each of the last three games of the group stage and is looking to extend that run when his side face Zobahan on Monday.
The AFC Champions League is a competition Romarinho has historically excelled in; the 28-year-old’s tally in the competition stands at an impressive 18 goals. He netted nine times over three seasons in El Jaish colours, before producing his best campaign with Al Jazira, bagging six goals in the 2018 edition and adding three goals this time around.
Amir Arsalan Motahari - Zobahan
Despite playing just 377 minutes out of a possible 540 in the group stage, Amir Arsalan Motahari is Zobahan’s most productive attacking player with three goals and an assist to his name. The 26-year-old was also his side’s top scorer in the league with six goals despite arriving from Omani side Saham three months into the Iranian Pro League season.
Motahari will be hoping to replicate his 2015 AFC Champions League success when he helped Naft Tehran reach the quarter-finals with three goals in 10 appearances. He had also represented Tractor Sazi in the 2018 edition but failed to find the back of the net in three appearances.
Almoez Ali - Al Duhail
Iraqi youngster Mohanad Ali was recruited from Al Shorta to replace the departing Youssef El Arabi, but the 19-year-old is likely to need some time to adapt to his new surroundings, putting more pressure on Qatar international Almoez Ali to step up and deliver in the short term.
Top scorer and MVP at the 2019 AFC Asian Cup, Ali struggled for form in the past few months as injuries disrupted his season but having recovered and scored for the national team in June’s Copa America, he will be looking to seize the opportunity and recapture his best scoring form as Al Duhail look to go far in the 2019 AFC Champions League.
Baghdad Bounedjah - Al Sadd
Top scorer of the 2018 AFC Champions League with 13 goals, Baghdad Bounedjah capped off a great season in which he was also the Qatar Stars League’s top scorer with a record 39 goals in 22 games by scoring the winning goal at the 2019 African Cup of Nations to gift Algeria their second-ever Continental title.
The Algerian forward might not have had much rest over the summer, but he returns for the Round of 16 double-tie against rivals Al Duhail aiming to extend a record of 19 goals in his last 18 AFC Champions League games. Bounedjah will undoubtedly be key to Al Sadd’s chances of bringing home a third Continental title.
Omar Al Somah - Al Ahli
Perhaps no player mimics the influence of Bounedjah at Al Sadd as much as Omar Al Somah does for Al Ahli. Since his arrival from Kuwait’s Qadsia SC, the Syrian forward has been the Saudi side’s unrivalled star and established himself as one of the Continent’s best strikers, winning the Saudi Pro League’s top scorer award three times in his five years in Jeddah.
Testament to the continued importance of Al Somah at Al Ahli is the fact that out of the team’s seven goals in this year’s AFC Champions League group stage, the 30-year-old scored six, matching his best tally in the competition.
Bafetimbi Gomis - Al Hilal
In his first season outside of European football, Bafetimbi Gomis made an instant impact at Al Hilal. The former France international bagged 21 goals in 22 games to finish as second highest top scorer in the Saudi Pro League. Gomis added four goals in the 2019 AFC Champions League group stage as his side’s leading scorer in the competition.
Prior to his move to Saudi, Gomis made his name as a prolific scorer with French side Olympique Lyon, where he scored 91 goals in five seasons. He then had successful stints at Swansea City, Olympique Marseille and Galatasaray before arriving at King Saud University Stadium where he has become a fan favourite.
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