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AFC Champions League Final: Forwards in Focus


Doha: More than 10 months since the first ball was kicked in the 2020 AFC Champions League, the Continental competition will draw to a close on Saturday after the highly anticipated final between Persepolis FC and Ulsan Hyundai FC. 

Ahead of Saturday’s final, the-AFC.com is shining the spotlight at some of the key players in defence, midfield and attack.

Having compared defenders and midfielders from the two sides, we conclude with the two men most likely to get on the scoresheet.

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Junior Negrao – Ulsan Hyundai

Junior Negrao brought his dominant domestic form in Korea Republic with him to Qatar where he has been on red-hot form, netting five goals in six appearances.

While Kim Do-hoon has tried to rotate his forward line and started 33-year-old Negrao on the bench in the opening group stage ties, the Brazilian was often called upon to turn games around, and that's exactly what he did on Matchday Three and Four with vital late goals.

In the knockout stages, coach Kim has started his dangerman from the first whistle and Negrao has returned the faith with a brace against Beijing FC in the quarter-final and a last-gasp penalty in extra-time to secure a spot in the final as they edged out Japan's Vissel Kobe.

Negrao remains a dominant presence inside opposition penalty areas, only one player (teammate Kim In-sung) has more than his 22 shots from inside the box, while his 55% shooting accuracy is among the best by a forward in the competition.

Should Ulsan wish to end their run of ill fortune in matches with trophies on the line, they will need their talisman to step up once more.


Mehdi Abdi Qara – Persepolis

In the absence of suspended striker Isa Alkasir, forward Mehdi Abdi Qara is set to be head coach Yahya Golmohammadi’s main attacking outlet against Ulsan Hyundai.

Just 22 years of age and only in his second full season as a professional with Persepolis, it's fair to say that Abdi Qara is at a very different stage of his career than the experienced veteran Negrao.

But with Ali Alipour having left in the summer and his replacement Alkasir also unavailable for selection, responsibility for leading the line may well land on the shoulders of the young Abdi Qara. He does, though, already have previous in the AFC Champions League.

Starting against a heavily favoured Al Nassr team, boasting the competition's leading scorer Abderrazak Hamedallah, Abdi Qara was able to steal the limelight from the Moroccan.

Leaping highest with three minutes remaining to half-time the Iranian powered home a bullet header to tie the scores, a vital goal that ultimately saw Persepolis progress via a penalty shootout.

Semi-final: Al Nassr 1-1 Persepolis (Persepolis win 5-3 on penalties)

Despite having played just 114 minutes of AFC Champions League action, Abdi Qara has scored twice (also netting against Sharjah in the group stage) and he has an impressive 33% conversion rate, the best in the team.

For a side that is predominantly focused on a strong backline, chances come at a premium and Abdi Qara's ability, so far, to make the most of what he's given will be an important asset in Saturday's final.

Poll ends at 19:00 (UTC +8) on December 19.

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