Kuala Lumpur: Having revisited legends from Australia, Japan, Korea Republic, Saudi Arabia, Islamic Republic of Iran and the UAE, the latest part of the series looks at five players from Syria who have left a mark on the AFC Champions League.
While the last appearance of Syrian clubs in the AFC Champions League dates all the way back to 2008, players from the Eastern Mediterranean nation have continued to make an impact in the competition with clubs from across West Asia.
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Omar Al Somah
Al Ahli Saudi FC
At the age of 31, Omar Al Somah stands out as Syria’s most prolific player in the competition, having broken into the continental club football scene with Kuwait's Qadsia SC when he scored seven goals in their 2014 AFC Cup title winning campaign, the striker's subsequent move to Al Ahli Saudi FC saw him bag 18 goals and one assist in 24 AFC Champions League appearances across four editions.
Al Somah's five goals in his debut campaign helped Al Ahli reach the Round of 16 in 2015, and after a below par campaign in 2016 saw him score just once, he bounced back in 2017, netting five times again as the Jeddah-based side reached the quarter-finals for the first time in five years. Then after missing out on the entire 2018 edition through injury, he enjoyed his most productive campaign in 2019 with seven goals.
Of his 18 goals in the AFC Champions League, Al Somah’s free-kick against Zobahan FC; a blistering howitzer from just outside the area is one to look back upon. This goal won him the Allianz Goal of The Week award on Matchday Two of the competition back in 2017.
Al Hilal SFC
Although he represented Al Hilal SFC in just one season of the AFC Champions League, Al Somah's strike partner on the international level reached heights never previously achieved by any Syrian player.
In his 13 appearances in the 2017 edition, Khribin bagged 10 goals to become the first Syrian player to win the competition's top goalscorer award. The highlight of his campaign was a hat-trick against Persepolis in the semi-final as the Blue Waves defeated the Iranian side 4-0 in the first leg.
In the final, Khribin's goal was not enough to prevent a 2-1 defeat to Urawa Red Diamonds, meaning he had to settle for silver, but the forward's exploits that season earned him the 2017 AFC Player of the Year award; another first for a Syrian player.
Jehad Al Hussain
Al Karamah SC, Al Taawoun FC
Coming through the ranks at Homs-based Al Karamah SC, Jehad Al Hussain has developed into one of Syria's finest midfielders of all-time. At the age of 35, Al Hussain currently plies his trade at Saudi Arabia's Al Raed, but well over a decade earlier, the creative playmaker rose to prominence as a key cog in the Al Karamah side that had established themselves as AFC Champions League perennials between 2006 and 2008.
Al Hussain broke his AFC Champions League duck with a well-taken left-footed strike against Saba Battery in the 2006 group stage. It would prove to be his only goal of the campaign, but his contributions in pulling the strings from the middle of the park were vital as Al Karamah went all the way to the final before losing to Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors.
A year later, Al Hussain scored twice as Al Karamah reached the quarter-finals, and he helped them to the same round again in 2008, in what was the last campaign for a Syrian team in the competition. A nomad career saw the midfielder represent six different clubs across Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and the UAE, with the highlight of his time abroad being crowned 2009 AFC Cup champions and top scorer in Qadsia SC colours.
By 2017, the former Al Karamah star was still making history, becoming the falcrum of the Al Taawoun FC side that reached the AFC Champions League for the first time in their history. He was amongst the goalscorers as Al Taawoun played out a dramatic 4-4 draw with PFC Lokomotiv in the 2017 group stage; a match that saw them record their first-ever away draw and score their first-ever away goal.
Al Karamah SC
Another key member of Al Karamah's iconic mid 2000s side, Atef Jenniat was a goal-scoring full-back, his pace and attacking contributions are evidenced by his sublime record of 22 goals scored in 86 league appearances for the Homs based side.
Throughout their journey to the 2006 AFC Champions League final, Jenniat established himself as an important attacking outlet. And while his first goal of the campaign was merely a consolation in a 4-2 defeat to UAE’s Al Wahda FSCC, his second would immortalise him in the club’s folklore.
Having been held to a stalemate at home by Qadsia SC, Al Karamah needed to get a result from Kuwait City in the second leg of the semi-final. Quarter of an hour in, it was Jenniat who stepped up to boot home from 30 yards out with his weaker right foot for the only goal of the game, sending Al Karamah into the 2006 AFC Champions League final.
In his last appearance in the competition, the 2008 edition saw Jenniat net in both games against Qatar’s Al Sadd as Al Karamah pipped their opponents to the quarter-finals. His goal in Doha was one for his highlight-reel. The left-back bounced on a loose ball 35 yards out and spotted the Qatari goalkeeper off his line, striking first time with his right into the top corner.
Firas Al Khatib
Al Arabi SC
A serial record breaker for club and country, Firas Al Khatib represented 10 clubs over his two-decade career before announcing his retirement in 2019, but his best performances came at Kuwait’s Al Arabi SC, the only club he played for in the AFC Champions League.
The Syrian forward’s first goal in the competition was a late equaliser in a 2-2 draw for Al Arabi against Sepahan in the 2004 group stage. He would go on to register 11 goals in 16 AFC Champions League appearances, putting him behind Al Somah as Syria’s second most prolific scorer in the competition.
Unlike other names in the list, Al Khatib has never appeared in an AFC Champions League knock-out stage match as his three campaigns with Al Arabi ended in group stage exits in 2004, 2006 and 2007.
The 37-year-old’s records, however, extend well beyond the AFC Champions League. Al Khatib is Syria’s all-time top goalscorer with 37 international strikes in 73 caps. He is also the Kuwaiti Premier League’s all-time top scorer with 156 goals, the vast majority of which were scored in Al Arabi colours.
Now you've read up on our five Syrian legends in the AFC Champions League, tell us who is your favourite by voting below (Poll ends at 1600 (UTC 8) on July 12).
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