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ACL2020: Ones to Watch

Doha: With the resumption of the 2020 AFC Champions League drawing ever closer, we profile seven players who could shape their clubs' fortunes in Qatar this month.

Having looked at some of the finest goalscorers in the tournament, we turn our attention to a group of stars who are set to be the focal points for their sides to build their success around over the next few weeks.

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Bashar Resan

The 23-year-old Iraq international joined Islamic Republic of Iran’s Persepolis FC in 2017 from perennial AFC Cup champions Air Force Club, and has recently renewed his contract with the Tehran giants until 2021.

Resan has made a total of 22 appearances in the AFC Champions League since joining Persepolis, including a run to the final of the 2018 edition which saw them lose out to Japan's Kashima Antlers.

The midfielder featured in 25 Iran Pro League games in 2019-20 as his side burst through unchallenged to the title, while featuring in both Matchday One and Two of the AFC Champions League this season.

Capable of playing as an advanced or deep-lying playmaker, Resan combines vision and the ability to find the target from range, while he also possesses the skill to dribble his way into the danger zones.

Salem Al Dawsari

Since the resumption of the Saudi Pro League after the COVID-19 enforced break, Al Dawsari continued the form that was so important to Al Hilal SFC's continental triumph in 2019. The winger contributed four goals and seven assists as the Blue Waves won a record 16th league title.

#ACLFinal 2019 - 2nd Leg: Urawa Red Diamonds vs Al Hilal SFC

Al Dawsari also took his form into the 2020 AFC Champions League as he assisted Andre Carillo’s goal in the opening game against IR Iran’s Shahr Khodro FC.

The Saudi international has remarkably just missed eight minutes of football in the competition since the start of the knockout stage of the 2019 version. With that sort of consistency, head coach Razvan Lucescu can rely on him to produce in the toughest of stages, just as he did in the away leg of the final against Urawa Red Diamonds, when he delicately tapped in the opener.

Santi Cazorla

The Spanish international joined Qatar’s Al Sadd SC from La Liga outfit Villarreal ahead of the 2020/21 season and has already hit the ground running in the Qatar Stars League, firing a brace in his club’s 5-1 defeat of Al Kharaitiyat on his debut, and adding another in the following game against Al Sailiya from the penalty spot.

Alongside his experience of playing at the top level, Cazorla possesses undoubted ability and his remarkable comeback from a career threatening foot injury is a testament to his resilience and perseverance - something head coach and compatriot Xavi will bank on him passing on to his teammates.

Surrounded by heaps of talent in the form of Hassan Al Haydos, Baghdad Bounedjah and 2019 Asian Footballer of the Year Akram Afif, the two-time UEFA European Championship winner is sure to produce nothing short of the spectacular football we’ve come to see from him.

Abderrazaq Hamdallah

To win the top scorer award in the Saudi Pro League with a record 34 goals is no easy feat, but to then go on and repeat the achievement, finishing as top scorer the following the season ahead of the likes of Bafetimbi Gomis and Omar Al Somah is a testament to the genuine quality of Moroccan striker Hamdallah.

The Al Nassr frontman also boasts a record few players have been able to achieve, which is to score in the AFC Champions League with four different teams, having first got on the scoresheet with Guangzhou R&F in 2015, then finding the back of the net with Qatari sides El Jaish and Al Rayyan in 2016 and 2018 respectively, and finally scoring two for Al Nassr in 2019 and adding two more in this edition.

With the addition of Argentinian midfielder Pity Martinez from MLS side Atlanta United, Hamdallah is certain to find a new line of supply, which will only boost his credential as one of the key dangermen in the 2020 AFC Champions League.

Igor Coronado

Sharjah's talismanic playmaker and 2018/19 UAE Pro League Best Foreign Player, Coronado has done well to come back from a long term injury that sidelined him for most of the season prior the UAE Pro League’s cancellation.

A vital cog in Sharjah’s machine, the 28-year-old has an unparalleled record for his club, with 24 goals and 21 assists in 37 league matches.

The former Palermo man has never previously featured in the AFC Champions League, with injury sidelining him off the first two matches, so the game against Al Duhail SC could potentially be his debut. With compatriot and teammate Welliton Soares now back in Sharjah, the duo could rekindle the deadly partnership that saw them fire the club to an historic league title in 2018/19.

Mehdi Ghayedi

Widely considered as one of the most exciting young talents in the country, Ghayedi has risen in profile every year since joining Esteghlal from Iranjavan Bushehr as an 18-year-old, having previously been part of the IR Iran side that played in the 2017 FIFA U20 World Cup.

#ACL2020 - Play-offs: Al Rayyan 0-5 Esteghlal

Despite his tender years, Esteghlal FC's number 10 has been a prominent figure in the side that came second in both the Iran Pro League and Hazfi Cup in 2019-20.

Ghayedi led the league’s assist charts with eight, as well as contributed the highest number of match winning goals for his club during the league season with four. He also chipped in with a brace in the 2020 AFC Champions League play-offs as Esteghlal brushed aside Al Rayyan 5-0 to reach the group stage.

Dragan Ceran

Pakhtakor’s Serbian forward has had a profound effect on his club since joining the Tashkent based side back in 2018 from FC Nasaf. He currently leads the Uzbekistan Super League scoring charts with 13 goals, and has also contributed four assists.

This excellent return comes on the back of a massive debut season that saw him score 23 goals and assist six in 24 matches - winning the top scorer award and the league title as well. With teammates Igor Sergeev and Jaloliddin Masharipov in the side providing assists left, right and centre, Pakhtakor have a formidable attacking force.

Ceran has the joint third highest number of duels won in the current edition of the AFC Champions League - 22 - further giving the Uzbek outfit a physical advantage in attack.

The competition could well bring other players into the spotlight, and with just a few days to go till kick-off, there is a lot to be excited about. While those seven players can make a difference, many others want to have a lasting effect on procedures.

Who will be a game changer in #ACL2020? Poll ends at 22:00 (UTC +8) on September 14.

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