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Five strikers who lit up the 2021 AFC Champions League Group Stage (West)

Kuala Lumpur: With the 2021 AFC Champions League group stage (West) concluded, looks back at five strikers who lit up the competition.

Some are AFC Champions League veterans, some made their debut in the competition, some have been eliminated while others will continue to challenge for the title of the 2021 AFC Champions League top scorer, but what they all have in common is that their 26 goals combined were some of the finest highlights of the first part of the competition.

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Michael Olunga - Al Duhail SC

One of three African players on the list, Michael Olunga might not have been able to lead his Al Duhail side into the Round of 16, but the Kenyan international's group stage tally of nine goals has only ever been bettered by two players - Al Jazira's Ricardo Oliveira in 2012 and FC Seoul's Adriano three years later, both of whom netted 10 times in the group stage.

The former Kashiwa Reysol striker marked his debut AFC Champions League campaign by setting a record; becoming the first-ever player to get on the scoresheet in each one of the six group stage games, including a hat-trick in the frenzied 4-3 win against Esteghlal FC on Matchday Three.

Olunga’s fitness levels spoke volumes as he missed just 21 minutes of play, scoring four of his nine goals in second halves and spearheading Sabri Lamouchi’s side even as the gruelling match schedule meant rotation for a lot of players. His team might have been eliminated, but with a four-goal lead over his nearest chaser, Olunga might yet emerge as the competition's top scorer off the back of his impressive group-stage displays.

Cheick Diabate - Esteghlal FC

Back in the AFC Champions League for the second season running, Cheick Diabate was in a more clinical form than his one goal in five matches a year earlier. The Malian forward's penalty against Al Shorta on Matchday Six sealed Esteghlal's qualification to the Round of 16.

The 33-year-old missed a penalty six minutes later that could have been his sixth goal in as many games, but as things transpired, the former Bordeaux striker's five goals were enough for Esteghlal to progress to the next round, giving him an opportunity to continue his pursuit of the top scorer award in the knockout stage.

Diabate's goal against Al Shorta on Matchday Two was the pick of the lot, as the Malian striker stood off the shoulder of the last defender and received the ball, using his sheer physicality to fight off a challenge from Karrar Al Abbasi en route to widening his team’s lead that day.

Mohammad Abbaszadeh - Tractor FC

Tractor made their way into the 2021 AFC Champions League Round of 16 off the back of being one of the three best sides to come in second place in the group stage, largely down to the two braces Abbaszadeh scored on Matchday One against Pakhtakor and Matchday Six against hosts Sharjah FC.

The first of the two braces rescued a point for Rasoul Khatibi’s men - a fiery 3-3 draw in which Abbaszadeh helped Tractor back into the game with a late equaliser. His second double guaranteed the Tabriz-based side's progression as they reached 10 points by the end of the group stage.

Against Sharjah, Abbaszadeh demonstrated impressive positioning as the first goal fell to him in the penalty area and pressured by four defenders, he volleyed in. The second goal was a perfect break in which captain Saman Narimanjahan played him in, with the former Persepolis striker tapping in to seal the three points.

Abderrazak Hamdallah - Al Nassr

The 2020 AFC Champions League top scorer is already just three goals shy of his total from last season with four goals so far. His goalscoring exploits have been supplemented by a creative knack that saw him make two assists as well.

A veteran of the AFC Champions League, the Moroccan has taken his overall tally to 24 goals, bringing him into the competition's top 10 goalscorers of all time. Having represented Qatar's Al Rayyan and El Jaish as well as China PR's Guangzhou R&F, Hamdallah has been in hot form over the past three years, bagging a total of 15 goals in the Al Nassr shirt, more than his tally with his previous three Asian sides combined.

His second goal against Foolad Khouzestan FC in his side’s 2-0 win on Matchday Four was his finest - with Hamdallah making little work of two defenders before chipping the goalkeeper from close range to add to an ever growing list of spectacular goals he has scored in the competition.

Shahriyar Moghanlou - Persepolis FC

Back in the Islamic Republic of Iran from a brief stint at Portugal’s Santa Clara, Shahriyar Moghanlou contributed four goals and an assist as the 2020 AFC Champions League runners-up charged through to the Round of 16, winning five games from six.

The level of anticipation shown during his side’s 3-1 defeat of Al Rayyan on Matchday Two was astounding as he managed a brace that kept Persepolis in the driving seat in Group E - the first goal being a diving header and the second an exquisite jumping volley, both early in the second half.

Another exceptional side to his game was his ability to spot his teammates’ in better positions than he is. In the 4-0 defeat of FC Goa, Isa Alkasir managed to score after the masterful Moghanlou received and expertly touched the ball into the former’s path.

Poll ends at 17:00 (UTC+8) on May 10.

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