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AFC Champions League (East) – Quarter-finals: Ones to Watch

Doha: The clock is ticking down towards the 2020 AFC Champions League (East) quarter-finals with Beijing FC to face Ulsan Hyundai and Vissel Kobe up against Suwon Samsung Bluewings in a pair of exciting match-ups on Thursday. 

A number of players have shone for the four sides so far in Qatar, with performances that have helped their respective teams reach the quarter-finals and keep the dream of being crowned 2020 Continental champions alive.

With Thursday's encounters fast approaching, has selected four players who could be the difference between making the semi-finals or heading home.

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Kim Min-woo – Suwon Samsung Bluewings (Korea Republic)

In a difficult domestic campaign for Suwon Samsung Bluewings, midfielder Kim Min-woo was one of the few players that consistently shone to help the two-time Asian champions avoid a full on relegation scrap. An ever-present in the side, Kim led the team in minutes played, finished second to Adam Taggart in the scoring charts and only Yeom Ki-hun had more assists.

With both Taggart and Yeom absent from the squad in Doha, Kim has had even more responsibility than he did for Suwon in the regular season. Since arriving in Qatar, the midfielder has played every minute of the Bluewings' four matches thus far and has only improved on what was already a stellar 2020.

Instrumental at both ends of the pitch, the 30-year-old has arguably been Suwon's standout player. With his side a goal down against Yokohama F. Marinos in the last 16, he assisted the goal that drew the Koreans level and then netted a stunning second to complete a remarkable turnaround in a 3-2 victory.

Having made 14 chances for his teammates he leads the way in Suwon's creativity charts, while a passing accuracy of 84 percent is proof of his reliability in possession. In a repeat of their final Group G match against Vissel Kobe – a 2-0 win – Suwon fans will hope their dictator of play can strike fear into Japanese opposition for the third match in succession.

Renato Augusto – Beijing FC (China)

Having been in the China PR capital since early 2016, Renato Augusto is coming to the end of his fifth season with the club and it's fair to say the Brazilian has been nothing short of a revelation. However, it has taken until 2020 for fans of Asian football to see his true quality on the Continent.

The 32-year-old shone in spells during a group stage exit last year but has returned in fine fashion this time round to weigh in with both valuable goals and crucial assists as Beijing have advanced unbeaten – with six wins and one draw – to reach the competition's quarter-finals for the first time in their history.

Boasting an impressive showreel in Qatar, Renato assisted A Lan's winner against FC Seoul, scored a stunning bicycle kick in the return meeting with the Koreans and bagged another goal and assist against Melbourne Victory in what was a fabulous Group E campaign.

The Rio de Janeiro native then produced his most important moment in the Round of 16 win over FC Tokyo, bursting down the right before cutting back for A Lan to score the game's only goal. Having started all seven of his side's matches so far, there is little doubt of his value to head coach Bruno Genesio as Beijing strive to become China's first AFC Champions League winners since Guangzhou Evergrande in 2015.

Won Du-jae – Ulsan Hyundai (Korea Republic)

Won Du-jae began 2020 with a bang as the 23-year-old starred in Korea Republic's AFC U23 Championship title-winning campaign and took home the tournament MVP award. He then went on to produce a stellar season for Ulsan Hyundai in what was his first year with the club after returning from Japan.

Seen by many as the replacement for Ki Sung-yueng for the senior Korean team, Won’s performances over the past 12 months would suggest he may be ready to fill those sizable shoes. The midfielder quickly became the linchpin to Ulsan’s game plan as he proved an asset going forward and tracking back during a K League 1 campaign in which his side fell just short of a first title since 2005.

Joining the team for their fourth match in Doha after being quarantined in his homeland, Won made an immediate impact as a starter in Ulsan’s 4-1 group stage victory over Shanghai Shenhua. Playing the full game, Won produced an excellent passing accuracy (96%) and intercepted the ball six times to help Ulsan to a comfortable win.

He quite literally rose to the occasion just three days later when he soared above the Melbourne Victory defence to score his first-ever AFC Champions League goal with a towering header to help secure a quarter-final spot. Adding goals to an already impressive arsenal of skills, Won will be hoping to help Ulsan reach the semi-finals for the first time since winning the tournament in 2012.

Gotoku Sakai – Vissel Kobe (Japan)

A key part of Vissel Kobe's dynamic left-side that comprises Kyogo Furuhashi and Andres Iniesta, wing-back Gotoku Sakai is often the base of where the side's attacks begin.

And it's a role that Sakai has thrived in to such an extent, that it's become clear his supply and penetrating runs further up the field have proved crucial in Qatar. Second only to Iniesta in dribbles completed in the team, second to Hotaru Yamaguchi in touches and joint third in chances created, the former Samurai Blue has been registering impressive stats at the AFC Champions League.

That does not mean he has been shirking his duties in the backline. With plenty of international experience gleaned from a lengthy spell in Germany with VFB Stuttgart and Hamburg SV and with his national team, Sakai has put up some impressive defensive numbers, too.

Almost double the number of tackles of any of his teammates in the Continental competition with 10 more duels won than any other, first in interceptions and third in clearances, it's clear that Sakai has consistently performed to a high standard at both ends of the field for Vissel.

*Poll ends at 18:00 (UTC +8) on December 10.

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