Semi-Finals: Ones to Watch
Kuala Lumpur: The 2019 AFC Champions League semi-finals kick off on Tuesday with teams from Qatar, Saudi Arabia, China PR and Japan set to go head-to-head in must-watch ties.
The two-legged fixtures will kick off on Tuesday and Wednesday with the return legs three weeks later. The two winning sides will progress to the final to be played on November 11 and 24.
We look at four players – one from each of the semi-finalists – who could be key for their respective teams' chances of victory.
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Forward, Al Sadd
One of Qatar's heroes from their AFC Asian Cup 2019-winning campaign, Akram Afif has seemlessly transferred his superlative form from national team to club side at this year's AFC Champions League.
Of players remaining in the tournament, Afif has created more chances than any other (26) and along with teammate Gabi has the most successful passes into the final third (147).
26' GOAL!! Al Sadd SC 1-0!@AlSaddSC are back level in this @TheAFCCL quarterfinal tie as Akram Afif gives Xavi's side the lead in the second leg as he heads in from a Nam Tae-hee cross. #ACL2019 #SDDvNSR pic.twitter.com/1QSHLMbC8N— FOX Sports LIVE! (@FSAsiaLive) September 16, 2019
Not just the leading playmaker in the 2019 edition, Afif has also been a goalscorer as well as provider with his four goals leading Al Sadd's scorers. Moreoever, his goals come at crucial times: three of them from the four knockout stage ties so far.
In 2018, striker Baghdad Bounedjah and Spain legend Xavi drove Al Sadd to the semi-finals but with the Algerian having lost his clinical edge on the Continent this year and Xavi retiring from active playing and moving into the head coach role, Afif has stepped up in a big way.
Winger, Al Hilal
While Bafetimbi Gomis, Sebastian Giovinco and Salem Al Dawsari have all been star names for Riyadh giants Al Hilal in their 2019 campaign so far, one of their most recent signings has had a dramatic impact on the team's fortunes, Peru winger Andre Carrillo.
Despite having only played in four matches on the Continent so far, Carrillo's statistics already outstrip his better-known teammates.
44' GOAL! @AlHilal_EN 1-1!— FOX Sports LIVE! (@FSAsiaLive) September 17, 2019
Al Hilal FC have levelled things up here just before half time as Andre Carillo's cross ends up in the back of the net. Al Ittihad goalkeeper Fawaz Al-Qarni should have done better there! 1-1! #ACL2019 #HILvITT pic.twitter.com/7u4Pojd76m
From his four matches, Carrillo averages three chances created per game, six duels won, 2.25 shots, and he boasts a 76% passing accuracy. The 28-year-old has already registered two assists and hit the net in the 'Saudi Clasico' against domestic rivals Al Ittihad in the quarter-finals.
The latter alone is enough to make him a hero in the eyes of the Al Hilal fans. Help fire the Asian heavyweights to a first AFC Champions League title and he'll go from hero to legend.
Forward, Urawa Red Diamonds
A case can be made that 2017 winners Urawa Red Diamonds would not be preparing for their fourth Continental semi-final were it not for the exploits of striker Shinzo Koroki.
The 33-year-old fan favourite had already almost single-handedly hauled Urawa into the quarter-finals after his brace helped the Saitama club come back from a 2-1 deficit against Ulsan Hyundai. And he was at it again in the last eight, scoring in both legs of the clash with Shanghai SIPG as Urawa edged past the Chinese champions on away goals.
With Koroki, there are two statistic to highlight. The first is his shooting accuracy which, at 58%, is the highest of any player remaining in the tournament. Seven goals so far is his highest haul on the Continent, with four of those coming from the four knockout stage ties so far.
The second is that he is exceptional in the air. Despite only standing 5'9", Koroki has scored the joint-most goals from headers in this year's tournament with three, alongside the considerably taller Anderson Talisca (6'3"), Marouane Fellaini (6'4") and Kim Shin-wook (6'5").
Forward, Guangzhou Evergrande
Despite only appearing in six AFC Champions League matches this campaign due to injuries, Anderson Talisca has been a dominant force when on the field, scoring five times so far.
A threat in the air, his powerful header against Kashima Antlers in the quarter-final effectively proved to be the match-winner, Talisca is a prolific goalscorer with his exciting play catching the eye as much as his platinum-dyed hair.
40' GOAL! 1-0 Guangzhou Evergrande (1-0 on aggregate)— FOX Sports LIVE! (@FSAsiaLive) September 18, 2019
Talisca gets away from his marker and attacks the corner with authority to give the Chinese side a HUGE lead!#KASvGUA #ACL2019 pic.twitter.com/KlcCT9QNDS
Skillful on the ball, Talisca has a 74% dribble success rate and he forms an exciting attacking trio with fellow Brazil-born attacker Elkeson and China PR forward Wei Shihao.
And yet with few goals coming from other areas of the field, countryman Paulinho aside, Talisca as a source of goals is fundamental to Guangzhou's hopes of lifting a third AFC Champions League title.
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