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Life begins at 30: Ai Kesen chasing AFC Champions League scoring record after reviving Guangzhou Evergrande’s campaign

Doha: Ai Kesen is chasing the dual objectives of a third AFC Champions League title and statistical immortality, after his Player of the Match display against Vissel Kobe on Saturday produced his 30th career goal in the competition.

The Braziiian-born Chinese international, formerly known as Elkeson, became just the fourth player in the competition’s history to reach the 30-goal barrier, taking him to within seven of the all-time record holder, Korea Republic legend Lee Dong-gook.

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The 31-year-old was at his brilliant best in Guangzhou’s 2-0 win, netting a magnificent free-kick after Anderson Talisca had put Fabio Cannavaro’s side ahead with an early penalty.

Guangzhou’s win significantly boosted their chances of an eighth knockout stage appearance in the past nine seasons, and Ai Kesen declared he will chase both team and individual success as long as he remains part of the Chinese giants.

Group G - MD3: Vissel Kobe 0-2 Guangzhou Evergrande FC

"I am very happy to win today, and it was important for me to score too,” said Ai Kesen, who helped Guangzhou to AFC Champions League glory in 2013 and 2015.

“I will continue to do my best and try to score as much as I can, first to help my team and then to reach that milestone.

“The AFC Champions League is a big competition and it is an honour for me to be able to compete against the best in Asia. We are a big team and I will do my best to help my team win more titles and if that comes by scoring the goals that will take me to all-time top scorer, then that is great.”

Since arriving in China in 2013, Ai Kesen has gone on to become one of the all-time greats of Chinese club football, scoring over 140 goals in two stints at Guangzhou and another at Shanghai SIPG.

He could yet become a legend on the international stage.

Ai Kesen became a Chinese passport holder in 2019, and he may well return to Qatar in two years as a Chinese national team player at the FIFA World Cup, with the forward having already netted three goals for Li Tie’s side in Asian Qualifiers matches.

“It is an amazing feeling to score in such a magnificent stadium,” he said after providing the moment of the match at Al Janoub Stadium.

“As a national team player, it is my dream as it is the dream of every member of the team to come back here with China PR in 2022 and play in the World Cup."

For now, Ai Kesen’s focus will be centred squarely on helping Guangzhou Evergrande reach the AFC Champions League Round of 16, an achievement which will be confirmed if they beat Korea Republic’s Suwon Samsung Bluewings on Tuesday.

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