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AFC Champions League (East) - Semi-final: Players to Watch

Doha: The 2020 AFC Champions League (East) reaches its final stop with the semi-final clash between Ulsan Hyundai FC and Vissel Kobe taking place on Sunday at Jassim Bin Hamad Stadium.

Throughout their journey to the semi-final, the two sides were able to count on an array of talents, both domestic and foreign. highlights four players who could make the difference and drive their teams to the December 19 final against Islamic Republic of Iran's Persepolis FC.

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Junior Negrão - Ulsan Hyundai FC

The 33-year-old Brazilian forward has certainly had a season to remember for the K League 1 runners-up, amassing an astonishing 32 goals in all competitions, four of which were in the 2020 AFC Champions League.

Scoring the winning goal in a late comeback against Perth Glory in the group stage was one thing, but a brace against Beijing FC in the quarter-finals was the pick of his performances in this edition.

Not only is he a scorer, but he has chipped in with an assist – selflessly teeing up Kim-In sung for the opener against Perth Glory three minutes before tapping in the winner from close range.

The Brazilian sits joint fourth with three other players in the scoring charts on four goals, and head coach Kim Do-hoon will certainly count on his goal scoring prowess to ensure his side’s venture into the continent’s top competition remains at least till the final.

Yoon Bit-garam - Ulsan Hyundai FC

One of the players who sits alongside Negrao in both the team sheet and the top-scorers’ chart, Yoon has managed four goals as well even though he has missed two matches.

Returning to the AFC Champions League for the second time, Yoon had featured in the 2012 edition in Seongnam FC colours, scoring one goal as his team bowed out in the Round of 16. In the current edition, Yoon had scored two goals from outside the box, more than any other player.

Goals aside, Yoon’s creativity stands out, having created 18 chances for his team, second only to Beijing FC’s Jonathan Viera (21). The 30-year-old has registered two assists, on par with teammate Kim In-sung as the highest in the team.

Pulling the strings from central midfield, Yoon can prove to be a key player against Vissel Kobe as his side face the tricky task of unlocking a defence that contains plenty of international experience coming in the likes of Thomas Vermaelen and Gotoku Sakai.

2020 AFC Champions League (East) - Quarter-final: Review

Kyogo Furuhashi - Vissel Kobe

With Spanish legend Andres Iniesta struggling with a muscle injury that limited him to eight minutes of action in the quarter-final, it is 25-year-old Furuhashi who shoulders much of the responsibility of helping Vissel Kobe unlock opposition defences.

Only Douglas has more shots on target (12) than Furuhashi’s eight, but the Japanese international was able to beat opposition goalkeepers on three occasions, topping Vissel Kobe’s scoring charts in the 2020 AFC Champions League.

Back in February, Furuhashi’s last-minute goal earned Vissel Kobe a crucial away win against Suwon Samsung Bluewings, and the versatile attacker added his second of the campaign in a 3-1 win over Guangzhou Evergrande, his side’s first in Qatar.

Furuhashi then netted Vissel Kobe’s equaliser in the quarter-final against Suwon Samsung Bluewings, before converting from the spot in the penalty shootout as head coach Atsuhiro Miura’s men emerged 7-6 winners.

Hotaru Yamaguchi - Vissel Kobe

Vissel Kobe’s vice-captain is one of the most influential figures for his team, his international experience of having played 48 times for Japan and spending a season in the German Bundesliga with Hannover 96, has helped the team in their first-ever AFC Champions League campaign.

Whether anchoring the midfield or filling in at the heart of defence, Yamaguchi is crucial to both the defensive and attacking phases of play, as evidenced by his club-high 420 passes and 40 recoveries. He has also chipped in with an assist.

Facing an Ulsan Hyundai side that have scored 19 goals, more than any team in the 2020 AFC Champions League (East), Yamaguchi’s defensive contribution will be crucial for Vissel Kobe's chances of reaching the final.

The 30-year-old has previously participated in the competition in Cerezo Osaka’s colours on three separate occasions, reaching the Round of 16 in the 2014, then joined Vissel Kobe in 2019.

*Poll ends on December 13, 18:00 (UTC+8)

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