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ACL Legends: Saudi Arabia

Kuala Lumpur: In the second part of this series of profiles, we look at five Saudi icons of the AFC Champions League era.

Since the inauguration of the AFC Champions League in 2002-03, Saudi teams have appeared in the final on seven occasions. Along the way, some of the kingdom’s players have created an iconic legacy in the competition.

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Mohammed Al Shalhoub

AFC Champions League Editions: 13

A one-club man who spent his entire career at Al Hilal, Mohammed Al Shalhoub’s association with Asia’s premier club competition predates its rebranding into the AFC Champions League.

In 2000, as a 19-year-old, Al Shalhoub started his first continental final, helping Al Hilal win the Asian Club Championship with a 3-2 victory over Japan’s Jubilo Iwata in Riyadh. It would prove to be the first of many finals.

Two decades later, Al Shalhoub is still going strong. At the age of 39, he is now club captain, with more appearances in the AFC Champions League than any other Saudi player. Testament to his longevity and growing influence at the club, the 2019 AFC Champions League saw Al Shalhoub score three goals, his personal best in a single continental campaign.

After tasting disappointment in 2014 and 2017, where the club settled for second-place, Al Shalhoub finally added the 2019 title to become the only Saudi player to have won both the Asian Club Championship and the AFC Champions League with the same club.

Mohammed Noor

AFC Champions League Editions: 9

If Al Ittihad’s golden era in the 2000s was to be embodied in one player, it would be none other than Mohammed Noor. The legendary club captain made his AFC Champions League debut against Kuwait’s Al Arabi SC in 2004, and by the end of that campaign, he had become the first Saudi captain to lift the coveted trophy.

Noor’s impact in winning the 2004 title was profound; the midfielder opened the scoring in the semi-final first leg against Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors, then bagged a brace in the second leg of the final as the Saudis overturned a 3-1 first leg deficit to defeat Seongnam FC 5-0.

A year later, with Noor orchestrating the midfield, Al Ittihad were even more dominant, beating Shandong Luneng 8-3 on aggregate in the quarter-final, then Busan I’Park 7-0 in the semis before capping the campaign in style with a 5-3 final victory over Al Ain in which Noor scored from a looping header to lift his second consecutive continental trophy.

At the age of 31, the 2009 edition saw what was perhaps Noor’s greatest individual performance in the AFC Champions League as he netted a hat-trick and added an assist in a historic 6-2 comeback win over Japan’s Nagoya Grampus Eight in the semi-final.

Nasser Al Shamrani

AFC Champions League Editions: 10

While Al Shalhoub and Noor created their names as ACL legends with one club, Nasser Al Shamrani’s case was different; ‘the Earthquake’ has scored goals for fun wherever his career has taken him.

With three goals in his first six AFC Champions League games in Al Shabab colours back in 2006, Al Shamrani established a love story with the competition; leading him to become the highest scoring Saudi player in the competition’s history.

Al Shamrani’s enjoyed his best season in the AFC Champions League in 2014, when he helped Al Hilal to a runners-up finish, with his own personal best record of 10 goals seeing him finish second in the scoring charts, just two goals behind Al Ain’s Asamoah Gyan. By the end of the year, he was named the 2014 AFC Footballer of the Year.

Even in his later short spells at Al Ain in 2018 and Al Ittihad in 2019, Al Shamrani’s poacher instinct saw him add to his AFC Champions League tally, becoming the only Saudi player to have scored for four different clubs in the competition.

Saud Kariri

AFC Champions League Editions: 11

He might not be the goalscoring machine Al Shamrani was, nor the one-club legend that was Al Shalhoub, but Saud Kariri’s influence in the AFC Champions League was arguably as important as any player in this list.

A tenacious defensive midfielder with a knack for the occasional piledriver, the former Saudi Arabia captain made his AFC Champions League debut in 2004 in Al Ittihad colours. He would go on to become an essential part of the side that clinched back-to-back titles in 2004 and 2005, and reached the final in 2009.

In 2013, Kariri ended a decade-long stay at Al Ittihad, joining rivals Al Hilal, where he established himself as an experienced anchorman, quickly earning his manager’s trust to be named amongst the club captains.

In lining up against Western Sydney Wanderers in the 2014 AFC Champions League final, Kariri entered the competition’s history, becoming the first player to play in four finals; a record that remains unmatched to date, cementing his status as a legend of the competition.

Salem Al Dawsari

AFC Champions League Editions: 8

While a number of Al Hilal players, including Salman Al Faraj and Yasser Al Shahrani, played a part in the club’s appearance in three AFC Champions League finals between 2014 and 2019, it is Salem Al Dawsari who has had the biggest impact in this era, helping the club to its long sought continental crown.

The pacey winger came through the ranks at Al Hilal, making his first team debut in 2011. The next year, he was making his bow on the continental front as his side reached the quarter-finals.

Al Dawsari played 180 minutes across the two legs in the 2014 final as Al Hilal were beaten by Western Sydney Wanderers 1-0 on aggregate, and three years later, there was more frustration for the winger as he was sent off in the second leg of the 2017 final, watching from the stands as Urawa Red Diamonds walked away with the title.

The 28-year-old’s determination finally paid off in 2019; Al Dawsari was instrumental, scoring in the quarter-final against Al Ittihad, in the semi-final against Al Sadd and in the second leg of the final against Urawa Red Diamonds to lead Al Hilal to their first AFC Champions League title.

Now you've read up on our five Saudi legends in the AFC Champions League, tell us who is your favourite by voting below (Poll ends at 1600 (UTC 8) on April 1).

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