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AFC Champions League (East): Forwards in form  


Doha: As the return of the AFC Champions League (East) fast approaches, we shine the spotlight on the in-form forwards who have the potential to fire their respective sides into the knockout rounds and further. 

The-AFC.com has selected six forwards who, in the absence of the AFC Champions League since early March, have starred for their teams in leagues across Asia and will go into the tournament's resumption full of confidence

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Junior Negrao (Ulsan Hyundai)

Junior Negrao's form throughout the 2020 K League 1 season has been nothing short of sensational as the Brazilian striker scored 26 goals in 27 games to finish the campaign as top scorer by some distance. This added to hugely impressive tallies of 19 and 22 in his previous two seasons and he has been on red-hot form for some time.

The 33-year-old is clinical in the box and makes a habit of being in the right place at the right time, while he also has the ability to finish with both feet and his head. A physical presence with speed to boot, Negrao also benefits from the vision of Kim In-sung down the right and Hong Chul on the left, acting as the perfect targetman for Ulsan's creative talent.

Ulsan, for the second consecutive season, fell just short of the K League 1 title on the final day but, despite that disappointment, they will arrive in Doha with one of the Continent's most confident and prolific marksmen. Negrao has netted two goals in each of his two previous appearances in the competition (2018 and 2019), and he will be desperate to add to that this time round.


Paulinho (Guangzhou Evergrande)

Undoubtedly one of the Chinese Super League's greatest imports, Paulinho is now in his sixth season with Guangzhou Evergrande and, if anything, continues to improve. In a condensed, centralised CSL season which began in July, the Brazilian was again among the top performers.

Unlike many of our other picks Paulinho does not lead the line, with the midfielder more adept at arriving late in the box, while he is also excellent from distance and a major threat in the air. Guangzhou fell just short of another CSL title, but the 32-year-old was out in front of their scoring charts with 12 goals in 20 games, including a brace that eliminated Beijing FC in the semi-finals.

Paulinho, who was also the Guangdong side's top scorer in the 2019 campaign, will go into the competition aiming to help Fabio Cannavaro's side repeat the feat of 2015 when he helped them win their second title in three seasons. Since then in the AFC Champions League, the Brazilian has put in a number of match-winning performances but has yet to return to the final.


Cedric Bakambu (Beijing FC)

Having arrived in the Chinese capital amid much fanfare back in 2018 and producing a strong first season, Cedric Bakambu has again hit top form in 2020 and finished as the top scorer in the Chinese Super League, while he was also among the top performers when it comes to assists.

The 29-year-old DR Congo striker boasts superb movement off the ball, blistering pace, a fine first touch and deadly finishing meaning if he hits the ground running in Qatar Beijing FC are likely to pose a threat to anyone as they aim to improve on recent showings in the competition.

Bakambu played in the 2019 AFC Champions League yet, despite starting all six of his side's group stage games, only once was his true talent on show. The former Villarreal man netted a hat-trick at Thailand's Buriram United but drew blanks in his other games as Beijing exited – a record both club and player will be looking to improve on.


Adam Taggart (Suwon Samsung Bluewings)

After joining Korean giants Suwon Samsung Bluewings from Brisbane Roar ahead of the 2019 campaign, Adam Taggart settled seamlessly into life in his new surroundings, scoring 20 goals in his first season to finish one ahead of Junior Negrao in the scoring charts.

While this year has been less prolific the Australian still finished as Suwon's top scorer, hitting his best form after the league split to ensure his side's survival in the Korean top flight. Four goals in his past five games, including a hat-trick against bitter rivals FC Seoul, rekindled memories of his devastating 2019 campaign.

The 2020 AFC Champions League marks the Perth native's first campaign on the Continent and, having drawn blanks in his opening two games earlier in the year, he will look to open his account in Qatar and help reignite his side's chances of returning to the knockout rounds for a sixth time.


Bill (Chiangrai United FC)

Brazilian striker Bill was Chiangrai United's top scorer as they were crowned Thai League 1 champions for the first time in 2019 and he has continued his form in front of goal after the 2020-21 campaign got underway in the Southeast Asian country following a lengthy COVID-19 enforced hiatus.

The defending champions had got off to a slow start but responded strongly and the period between mid-September and late-October saw the Beetles hit form, with their South American frontman going on a scoring streak in which he netted seven times in five games as Chiangrai moved back towards the upper reaches of the table.

The 36-year-old may no longer possess to pace to trouble defences but speed of thought can help him steal a yard on his marker as he continues to shine even in the latter years of his career. Yet to score in Chiangrai's opening two games in this year's AFC Champions League, Bill will be desperate to register his first goal on the Continent.


Kyogo Furuhashi (Vissel Kobe)

A goal in each of his opening two AFC Champions League games back in February, including a last-minute winner against Suwon Samsung Bluewings, got Kyogo Furuhashi's Continental campaign off to a dream start and, in recent times, he has been hitting similar form in J.League 1.

Vissel Kobe's season in Japan's top tier may have been inconsistent at best but the wide forward continues to impress and has been on the scoresheet in four of his side's past five wins, while he has also struck up a good partnership with Spain's FIFA World Cup winner Andres Iniesta.

With Vissel having picked up maximum points from their opening two games, the stage is set for the debutants to advance deeper into the tournament and for Furuhashi, who is also in his maiden Continental campaign, to continue to shine in Asia's biggest club competition.


With non-stop AFC Champions League action to kick off in Doha on November 18, fans across the Continent will be looking for their frontmen to deliver the goals that can propel their sides to glory.

Who is your favourite to emerge top scorer? Poll ends at 16:00 (UTC +8 on November 18).

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