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AFC Champions League: Records and Milestones

Kuala Lumpur: The return of the AFC Champions League brings with it another opportunity for records, significant marks and milestones in Asia's most prestigious club competition.

Individual efforts, team goals, and moments of history, takes a look at some of the notable numbers that could be reached when Continental club football returns to the East Zone teams after over eight months out.

There may well be other accomplishments we could see by the end of the tournament, but here are five to focus on for now.

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A Title Treble

At the 2018 AFC Champions League, Kashima Antlers goalkeeper Kwoun Sun-tae achieved the unprecedented achievement of becoming the first, and to date only, three-time AFC Champions League winner adding to triumphs in 2006 and 2016 with previous club Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors.

Urawa Red Diamonds veteran Yuki Abe could have joined him in 2019 but the Saitama club fell at the final hurdle, losing to Al Hilal SFC in last year's final.

In 2020, there are several players who could reach Kwoun's milestone, the bulk of whom come from two-time Continental champions Guangzhou Evergrande. Korean midfielder Shin Hyung-min is another two-time winner with an eye on a third medal, having lifted the title with Pohang Steelers in 2009 and current side Jeonbuk in 2016.

Perhaps most significant would be Kim Shin-wook, now at Shanghai Shenhua, who could become the first player to win the title with three different sides having won the AFC Champions League in 2012 with Ulsan Hyundai and 2016 with Shin and Kwoun at Jeonbuk.

*Ai Kesen, Huang Bowen, Liao Lisheng, Zhang Linpeng, Zheng Zhi (all five currently at Guangzhou Evergrande), Feng Xiaoting, Li Shuai and Zeng Cheng (all three currently at Shanghai Shenhua).

30 Goals

The player formerly known as Elkeson entered the AFC Champions League with a bang in 2013 as he netted six times in six matches helping Guangzhou Evergrande secure China PR's first Asian club title since 1990.

Since then the Brazil-born naturalised Chinese star, now known as Ai Kesen, has continued his love affair with the Continental competition and he could be set to join a hallow hall of fame in Doha.

Just three players currently occupy the 30 goals club in the AFC Champions League with Korea Republic legend Lee Dong-gook leading the way on 37 goals, followed by Dejan Damjanovic on 36 with Saudi Arabia's Nassir Al Shamrani on 32.

And Ai Kesen is poised to make that trio a quartet. The prolific forward is on 29 goals and will have a minimum of six games to score the goal he needs to hit that milestone. If anything, he may even have an eye on Lee Dong-gook's all-time top scorer tally.

At just 31 years of age with Lee Dong-gook retired, Damjanovic now 39 and Al Shamrani turning 37 at the end of November, Ai Kesen has the potential, should he maintain fitness and form, to set the kinds of records that will last for decades.

Pan-Continental Dominance

Ever since his move to Al Sadd in 2015, a lot of the talk amongst Asia's football fans was centred around whether Xavi could become the first player to win both the UEFA Champions League and the AFC Champions League.

Unfortunately, for the Barcelona legend, he never got closer than the 2018 semi-final when a big hand from Persepolis goalkeeper Alireza Beiranvand denied the Spain star at the death.

Instead, it could be his former midfield partner, Andres Iniesta, who now has the opportunity to achieve this milestone. The 36-year-old currently captains Japan's Vissel Kobe and the J.Leaguers go into the resumption in Qatar on maximum points after defeating Suwon Samsung Bluewings 1-0 in February.

Should Vissel advance from a three-team Group G in Qatar (Malaysia's Johor Darul Ta'zim having withdrawn), and go all the way to the title, Iniesta would not only become the first player to win the AFC Champions League and UEFA Champions League titles but he would also become the first FIFA World Cup winner to do so as a player.

Previous World Cup winners to play in the AFC Champions League include the likes of the aforementioned Xavi, Frank LeBoeuf, Luca Toni, Alberto Gilardino and Edilson although none of the quintet have won Asia's top club prize. World Cup winning-coaches to have lifted the AFC Champions League include Marcello Lippi (2013) and Luiz Felipe Scolari (2015).

Club and Country

The club versus country debate always comes up in football circles, but there is one man who can claim to have risen to the top in both club and national competitions within Asia should he achieve success in Doha: Yokohama F. Marinos head coach Ange Postecoglou.

The Australian tactician memorably led his nation to success in the 2015 AFC Asian Cup on home soil and he could be poised to take his club side to similar glory in Qatar this year, having started the Continental tournament with two wins from two earlier in the year.

Should Postecoglou achieve the AFC Asian Cup and AFC Champions League double he would be the first coach to achieve this feat.

Maiden Milestones

And finally, let's spare a thought for two of this year's debutants: Chiangrai United and Perth Glory. Having waited so long to finally make their mark on Asia's grandest stage, the two teams could never have imagined that scoring their first Continental goal would take over eight months after kicking off their first match in AFC Champions League!

Granted, Perth have played just one tie so far (a 1-0 defeat to FC Tokyo) while Chiangrai have played two fixtures (two 1-0 losses to Melbourne Victory and Beijing FC), but it will still mark an important moment for the latest members of the AFC Champions League when they finally, belatedly, register a inaugural goal in Asia.

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