Q-finals: 5 Things To Look Out For
Kuala Lumpur: The 2019 AFC Champions League quarter-finals feature a star-studded cast with five former winners among the eight sides still battling it out for Continental glory.
Ahead of the four first legs, which take place between Monday and Wednesday, the-AFC.com has selected five things to look out for in a week that will see some of Asia's biggest club sides square off in a quartet of mouth-watering match-ups.
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1. Elkeson’s AFC Champions League homecoming
Back in the 2013 quarter-finals, Elkeson made a scoring AFC Champions League debut for Guangzhou Evergrande in a 2-0 home victory against Qatar’s Lekhwiya, before he went on to score home and away against FC Seoul in the final as the Chinese side won their first Continental title, by virtue of away goals.
Two years later and the Brazilian – a recently naturalised China PR citizen – was at it again as he netted the only goal in the second leg of the final against the United Arab Emirates’ Al Ahli to ensure the Guangdong side picked up their second title following a 1-0 aggregate victory.
🙌 A legend is born 🏆 🏆— AFC Champions League (@TheAFCCL) August 15, 2019
🇧🇷’s Elkeson’s 1️⃣st AFC Champions League goal for Guangzhou Evergrande came in the 2013 quarter-finals. pic.twitter.com/bkLzEmYphH
Elkeson then departed for rivals Shanghai SIPG in early 2016 and reached the 2017 semi-finals before lifting the 2018 Chinese Super League title in what was a successful three and a half years with the club.
But, having helped Shanghai into the quarter-finals, the 30-year-old has returned to Guangzhou and has been in fine goalscoring form since. Targeting a third AFC Champions League title, his next task will be to help the two-time winners past holders Kashima Antlers.
2. Red-hot Jeddah–Riyadh clash
Two of the most storied clubs in Asian football will lock horns in Jeddah on Tuesday as Saudi Arabian rivals Al Ittihad and Al Hilal meet for just the second time in the AFC Champions League, after the former eliminated the latter in 2011.
With 15 league titles to their name, Al Hilal are by some distance Saudi Arabia’s most successful side, while a further six Continental trophies means they boast more Asian titles than any other club. They don’t, however, possess what their biggest rivals do: the AFC Champions League.
Al Ittihad tasted Continental glory in 2004 and 2005 and remain the only team to have successfully defended the title, while they also finished runners-up in 2009. Al Hilal, meanwhile, have come agonisingly close, having lost by a single goal in the 2014 and 2017 finals.
There’s little doubt who has been the stronger in the competition in recent years and Al Hilal have at times looked formidable in 2019. The Riyadh club remain desperate for what their Jeddah foes have, but will have to oust the two-time champions in order to achieve their goal.
3. Twenty not out for Shanghai?
Since Shanghai SIPG made their Continental debut in 2016, their Shanghai Stadium has been turned into a fortress, with the Chinese Super League champions having never tasted defeat on home soil in a run that goes back 19 games.
A 2-1 win over Suwon Samsung Bluewings in March 2016 kicked things off and in total they have won 13 and drawn six of their games at home. Tuesday’s opponent’s Urawa Red Diamonds, meanwhile, have come away from Shanghai with a loss and a draw.
But, while the J.League side were defeated 3-2 in the 2017 group stage, their second visit to Shanghai Stadium was far more fruitful as a 1-1 draw in the semi-final first leg that same year paved the way for a 2-1 aggregate win before they were ultimately crowned champions.
Almost two years later and Shanghai host Urawa for a third time, looking to stretch their unbeaten run to 20 matches. A 14th win would stand them in good stead for the return meeting in Saitama, where their less impressive record reads: played two, lost two.
4. Al Nassr join tournament heavyweights
Although they have won three of the past six Saudi Pro League titles, Al Nassr are appearing in just their fourth AFC Champions League campaign. And, having reached the last 16 on their debut in 2011, the Riyadh side suffered group stage elimination in 2015 and 2016.
But, after defeating Al Wahda in the previous round, Al Nassr finally booked a place in the last eight to mean they are the only quarter-final debutants this year. Having already seen off city rivals Al Hilal to claim the Saudi Pro League title, they are enjoying a superb 2019 and will start the latter stages with real hope.
Their star striker and top scorer in the 2018-19 domestic season Abderrazak Hamdallah barely played in the group stage but returned to score home and away against Al Wahda in the last 16 to help Al Nassr line up a date with 2011 winners Al Sadd.
It’s fair to say the Qatari champions offer Al Nassr their biggest test to date, but Rui Vitoria’s side have already shown they can upset the odds this year. With the prolific Hamdallah and forward Giuliano impressive in the previous round, the Saudi champions will believe they have the firepower to continue their fine run.
5. Can Serginho outshine Guangzhou’s Brazilians?
On August 28, 2018, Serginho announced his AFC Champions League arrival with a goal in a 2-0 victory over China’s Tianjin Quanjian in the first leg of the quarter-finals, before going on to score in his next four games on the Continent to inspire Kashima Antlers to a first title.
Exactly a year to the day since his AFC Champions League debut, the Brazilian will once more face Chinese opposition, this time in the form of two-time winners Guangzhou Evergrande at Tianhe Stadium on Wednesday.
Having scored in six of the eight knockout round games he has played, Serginho has already proved to be the man for the big occasion, but in Paulinho, Talisca and Elkeson, Guangzhou boast a formidable trio of big-game Brazilians.
The game marks a repeat of the 2017 Round of 16 clash which Guangzhou edged on away goals after Paulinho scored home and away. But with Serginho’s record in the knockout rounds, the holders will hope it is their Brazilian who is writing the headlines this time round.
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