Round of 16: Ones to Watch
Kuala Lumpur: The Round of 16 kicks off in the East on Tuesday with teams from China PR, Korea Republic and Japan set to go head-to-head in some classic encounters.
The two-legged fixtures will kick off on Tuesday and Wednesday with the return legs the following week. The four winning sides will progress to the quarter-finals at the end of August.
We look at eight players – one from each of the Round of 16 sides in the East – who will be key for their respective teams' chances of victory.
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Midfielder, Guangzhou Evergrande
Brazilian superstar midfielder Paulinho powered Guangzhou Evergrande to their second AFC Champions League title when he joined midway through the 2015 campaign and has since remained a pivotal player on the Continental stage.
A true all-rounder, the former Tottenham Hotspur and FC Barcelona man has again registered high across a number of key stats including passing accuracy (88%), duels won (43) and shooting accuracy (53%).
While the 30-year-old has only been credited with one goal so far – as well as tallying two assists – he played a big part in the winner against Daegu FC that secured Guangzhou their place in the Round of 16.
An elite-level player midfielder, Paulinho often rises to the occasion in the AFC Champions League's knockout stage including memorable strikes against Kashiwa Reysol (2015) and Kashima Antlers (2017).
Forward, Shandong Luneng
The AFC Champions League's leading scorer in the East, powerful striker Graziano Pellè has been in fine form in this year's Group Stage.
Six goals from his five Group Stage appearances is an impressive statistic, along with a 50% shooting accuracy, but the all-action Italian has also been involved in the highest number of duels (101) of any player in the East's Round of 16 sides.
On the domestic front, Pellè is the second highest scorer in the 2019 Chinese Super League season so far with 11 goals, behind only Guangzhou R&F's Eran Zahavi.
The former Southampton and Feyenoord forward is a threat in the air or from anywhere within the penalty area, while he has also shown composure from the spot when it counts, converting both penalties he has been awarded in the Group Stage.
Forward, Kashima Antlers
The 30-year-old was signed by the defending champions ahead of the 2019 season and has had a rollercoaster experience in his second AFC Champions League campaign so far, bookending a forgettable Matchday Three, Four and Five with heroic cameos on Matchdays Two and Six.
On target in the play-offs against Newcastle Jets, Ito then scored his first Group Stage goals since 2014 with a pair of smart finishes against Shandong in Jinan on Matchday Two.
SHO ITO BRACE!— FOX Sports LIVE! (@FSAsiaLive) May 22, 2019
Just moments after equalizing for @atlrs_english, the forward scores again to put Kashima ahead against Shandong Luneng!
Gyeongnam FC and @OfficialJohor look set to be heading out...#KASvSDL #GFCvJDT #ACL2019 pic.twitter.com/2qbatk7V6q
A dry spell followed, before a brace off the bench in the final Group Stage tie saw Ito single-handedly turn a 1-0 defeat to a 2-1 victory over Shandong which secured Kashima a place in the Round of 16.
Ito's shooting accuracy and conversion rates from the Group Stage games are the best of any of Kashima's players and with usual goal-threat Serginho struggling for form, the Ibaraki club may now need to rely more on their number 15 to produce the goods when it matters.
Midfielder, Sanfrecce Hiroshima
Sanfrecce have tended to play a rotation system in the Group Stage and it's one that has clearly worked with the J.League side having registered five wins in a row since Matchday Two.
Such an emphasis on the squad, rather than the individual, does make it difficult to identify key players amongst the side but one who has shone is young midfielder Tsukasa Morishima.
GOAL | @gomvfc 🇦🇺 1-3 @sanfrecce_SFC 🇯🇵— AFC Champions League (@TheAFCCL) May 22, 2019
😱 Sensational strike from Tsukasa Morishima to double the advantage! The Group F winners looking to sign off the Group Stage with a flourish! #MELvSAN #ACL2019
Follow LIVE ➡ https://t.co/DSQe3G9lgZ pic.twitter.com/Y6zSoGB8bZ
The 22-year-old has tallied more assists (3) and created more chances (9) than any player in the Sanfrecce side, while also scoring in the Matchday Six tie against Melbourne Victory.
Morishima is only one of four Sanfrecce players who have started five games or more in the 2019 AFC Champions League and in an XI that has tended to have a different appearance each time they line-up, the man from Mie Prefecture has been a near constant.
Midfielder, Shanghai SIPG
No player has created more chances in the 2019 AFC Champions League than Oscar, whose tally of 24 is matched only by fellow Brazilian Renato Augusto of the now departed Beijing FC.
With attacking flair such as Hulk and Elkeson ahead of him, Oscar’s role through the middle is pivotal, and having contributed four assists already – also a joint tournament high – the 27-year-old is undoubtedly living up to his billing as Shanghai’s creative hub.
89' GOAALL! @SydneyFC 3-3 Shanghai SIPG— FOX Sports LIVE! (@FSAsiaLive) April 10, 2019
A defensive error allows the Chinese side to break with pace and it's Oscar who provides another goal, this time Elkeson is benefitted by it!
What a match.#ACL #ACL2019 #SYDvSHA pic.twitter.com/0i6pMvGR4n
But Oscar is also a major threat in front of goal and netted a hat-trick in the must-win 5-0 victory over Ulsan Hyundai on Matchday Six in a game which his team’s main marksman Hulk was absent.
The Brazilian had not yet signed for Shanghai when they exited 5-0 at the hands of Jeonbuk in the 2016 quarter-finals. Ahead of the first knockout round in 2019, he will arguably be the player the two-time champions fear most.
Defender, Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors
With Shanghai at home, Jeonbuk can expect to spend plenty of time on the back foot, but the Korean team have already shown their defensive capabilities, advancing from a tough group with a tournament best three goals conceded.
In left-back Kim Jin-su, the Jeonju side boast a player who is strong both defensively and going forward, something which could be key to their chances of leaving Shanghai with a positive result.
Kim Jin-su has won the highest number of tackles on his team (11) and made the joint most interceptions (13), while no Jeonbuk player has created more chances than the 12 he has to his name.
One of Jeonbuk’s most dangerous weapons is their towering striker Kim Shin-wook, meaning Kim Jin-su's threat on the left could be key to not only claiming a clean sheet but also in netting a potentially crucial away goal.
Striker, Urawa Red Diamonds
A key member of Urawa Red Diamonds’ 2017 AFC Champions League-winning team, Shinzo Koroki is the Saitama team’s leading scorer in the current campaign on three goals.
Technically gifted, Koroki comes alive in the box and the striker has now scored in each of his past three games on the Continent.
A firm fans’ favourite having been at Urawa since 2013, Koroki also goes into the clash with Ulsan Hyundai on a high after netting a stoppage-time winner against Sagan Tosu in the J.League at the weekend.
With Ulsan boasting a strong defensive record – a 5-0 defeat to Shanghai SIPG aside – chances may be at a premium, meaning the pressure will be on Koroki to take any that come his way.
Goalkeeper, Ulsan Hyundai
While Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors progressed from the group stage with the best defensive record, that is in some way because of Ulsan Hyundai’s 5-0 loss to Shanghai SPIG on Matchday Six.
With Ulsan having already secured their spot in the last 16, goalkeeper Oh Seung-hoon was left on the bench in Shanghai and it is in fact he who has the highest number of clean sheets in the competition.
87' - Save from Oh Seung-hoon! #ShanghaiSIPG are knocking on the door, but @Ulsanfc goalkeeper Seung-hoon has kept out another effort from Oscar!— FOX Sports LIVE! (@FSAsiaLive) March 13, 2019
The home team have a few more minutes to hold on to their advantage! #ACL2019 #ULSvSHA pic.twitter.com/wBGJUmFTDo
The custodian played in Ulsan’s first five games, keeping four clean sheets and conceding just twice – away at Kawasaki Frontale – as the goal-shy K League team progressed having found the back of the net just five times.
Oh will surely be recalled to the starting 11 away at Urawa Red Diamonds on Wednesday and if he can record a fifth shutout in six games, Ulsan will return home full of confidence ahead of the second leg.
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