Kuala Lumpur: The 2019 AFC Champions League was replete with star strikers as frontmen from all over the globe displayed their attacking prowess and brought joy to spectators across the Continent.
Over the past three weeks, fans of Asian football have decided their top goalkeeper, the best defence and the playmakers in midfield, so now it's time to turn our attention to the all-important forward positions in order to find a front trio to complete the Best XI.
Using match data from the tournament, we've selected eight standout performers from the 2019 edition to present a star-studded cast. All you need to do is review the nominees and vote for your favourite in the poll below.
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Bafetimbi Gomis – Al Hilal
- 11 goals scored (#1 by a forward)
- 19 shots on target (#1 by a forward)
- 63% dribble success rate
Bafetimbi Gomis took the 2019 AFC Champions League by storm, finishing as the tournament's 11-goal top scorer, the MVP and with a winners' medal around his neck. The Frenchman, who is now renowned for his 'Lion' celebration, did it all with a smile on his face as he became an Al Hilal legend and wrote his name into the competition's history books.
The striker netted four times in the group stage before a Round of 16 hat-trick against domestic rivals Al Ahli proved the Riyadh side were the real deal. Three more over two legs in the semi-final win over Al Sadd saw Gomis head into the final as the leading scorer and it was fitting his injury-time strike to make it 3-0 against Urawa Red Diamonds was the last meaningful contribution of the tournament.
Shinzo Koroki – Urawa Red Diamonds
- 8 goals scored (#3 by a forward)
- 88% passing accuracy
- 40% shot conversation rate
Urawa Red Diamonds' striker Shinzo Koroki produced his best-ever AFC Champions League performance as he fired the Saitama side into a third final before falling just short. In stature the frontman may not be the most physically imposing, but characteristically excellent movement also saw him score four of his eight goals from headers.
Like Gomis, there was a crucial Round of 16 contribution, a brace away at Ulsan Hyundai reversing a first-leg deficit before Koroki scored home and away to eliminate Shanghai SIPG at the quarter-final stage. The Miyazaki native's headed goal at Tianhe Stadium helped stave off a Guangzhou Evergrande comeback in the second leg of the semi-final but ultimately it was not to be in the showpiece event.
Omar Al Soma – Al Ahli
- 7 goals scored
- 33% shot conversion rate
- 14 shots on target
Excellent in the air, technically gifted, a deadball specialist and good at bringing others into the game, there's not much Omar Al Soma does not have in his repertoire. The Al Ahli man was in fine form once more in the 2019 edition, netting seven goals in eight games at a strike rate of a goal every 76 minutes before the Jeddah giants fell in the last eight.
A towering header against Al Sadd and a superb free-kick in the win over Persepolis were among the highlights of the group stage before the big Syrian rounded off a slick move to give his side an early lead against Al Hilal in the last 16. A quarter-final appearance for Al Soma did not materialise, however, as Al Ahli's domestic rivals fought back to claim a 4-3 aggregate win.
Akram Afif – Al Sadd
- 5 goals scored
- 30 chances created (#1 by a forward)
- 53% duel success rate
Akram Afif began the year as an AFC Asian Cup UAE 2019 winner and ended it as the AFC Player of the Year, producing some fine form in between for Al Sadd as the Qatari side again came within a game of reaching the final. The Doha native outscored his usually prolific teammate Baghdad Bounedjah while also creating more chances for his teammates than any other forward in the competition.
Afif's most notable contributions came in the knockout rounds, with goals home and away against domestic rivals Al Duhail seeing Al Sadd into the quarter-finals, where he added another as Al Nassr were next to fall. The winger was on the scoresheet again in the semi-final against Al Hilal, but his second-leg penalty ultimately proved inconsequential as the Qataris' comeback was thwarted by the eventual winners.
Graziano Pelle – Shandong Luneng
- 6 goals scored
- 30% shot conversion rate
- 59% aerial duel success rate, 51% duel success rate
Another star name who made his AFC Champions League debut in 2019 was Graziano Pelle, whose goals helped fire Shandong Luneng into the knockout rounds for just the third time. Fine form from the off saw the Italian net six times in his first four games as the Jinan side stormed to the top of their group and their striker joined the early contenders for the top scorer accolade.
A two-goal debut against Gyeongnam FC, including a fine turn and finish, ensured a happy introduction to Asian club football while there was also a pair of winners against Johor Darul Ta'zim. The goals dried up thereafter, though, as a tournament that began to so prolifically ultimately fizzled out for both club and star player with a last 16 exit to Guangzhou Evergrande.
Hulk – Shanghai SIPG
- 6 goals scored, 2 assists
- 31 dribbles completed (#1 by a forward)
- 28 shots made
For the third successive year Hulk produced some eye-catching performances in the AFC Champions League as Shanghai SIPG made the knockout rounds for the fourth season in a row. As has happened so often, in the Chinese side's time of need, it was their big Brazilian who stepped forward and delivered when it mattered most.
A double away at Kawasaki Frontale, including a stunning solo goal that began inside his own half, secured a vital point in the group stage while a late equaliser away at Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors – and subsequent goal in the shootout – helped eliminate the Koreans. Hulk added two more penalties in the first leg of the quarter-finals, but it was SIPG's old foes Urawa who eventually advanced.
Sebastian Giovinco – Al Hilal
- 2 goals scored, 4 assists (#1 by a forward)
- 29 chances created (#2 by a forward)
- 53 duels won
The second Italian on the list, Sebastian Giovinco was part of an awesome Al Hilal attacking quadrant that scored goals for fun and entertained along the way. While the aforementioned Gomis was the main man in front of goal in the Riyadh side's tournament-winning campaign, the diminutive forward was the creative hub with more assists than any other forward and a hugely impressive 29 chances created.
A neat turn and finish put paid to Al Ittihad's challenge in the quarter-finals but from then on Giovinco was all about the assists. He created three of Al Hilal's goals over two legs in the semi-final win against Al Sadd and had a hand in goals home and away in the final as the Saudis proved too strong for Urawa to lift the AFC Champions League title for the first time.
Baghdad Bounedjah – Al Sadd
- 3 goals scored, 2 assists
- 36 shots made (#1 by a forward)
- 16 chances created
Prolific in 2018 with a record-equalling 13 goals to his name, Baghdad Bounedjah may not have been quite as clinical in the 2019 campaign but it wasn't for want of trying, the Algerian's 36 shots on goal more than any of his fellow strikers.
Perhaps the sweetest moment was a last-gasp group stage winner against Persepolis which saw Al Sadd get a touch of revenge for the semi-final defeat just a few months earlier. He also netted the decisive goal in the quarter-final victory over Al Nassr but as Al Sadd almost staged an unlikely semi-final second-leg comeback against Al Hilal, their main man in front of goal was forced to sit out through suspension.
The poll ends on Friday, September 11 at 4pm (UTC+8). The Best XI chosen by fans and the best XI based on the 2019 statistics will be announced on Sunday, September 13.
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