Kuala Lumpur: With the 2020 AFC Champions League on hiatus until September, the-AFC.com continues its series of articles to determine your best sides from the last four editions of the Continental competition.
Last week we presented the candidates for the 2018 edition's best goalkeeper, and now it's time to turn our attention to defenders.
So, here are the 14 players in contention for the four places in the backline. Review the nominees and then choose your favourite defenders for this all-star XI in the respective polls.
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Koki Anzai – Kashima Antlers
- 15 chances created (#2 by a defender)
- 77% passing accuracy
- 2 assists
While Koki Anzai may not have started every game for Kashima, he was a reliable presence whenever called upon and can take credit for creating one of his side's most important goals of their title-winning campaign when he crossed for Shoma Doi to level the scores away at Shanghai SIPG in the last 16. He also created the second highest number of chances among defenders.
Voria Ghafouri – Esteghlal
- 2 goals
- 77% tackle success rate
- 24 crosses from open play
Voria Ghafouri appeared in all 10 of Esteghlal's games as the Tehran giants reached the quarter-finals for only the second time. The full-back's energy down the right was a constant threat to opposition defences while he also weighed in with two goals, including a match-winning strike against Al Hilal.
Lee Yong – Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors
- 15 chances created, 2 assists
- 21 crosses from open play completed (#1 by a defender)
- 84% passing accuracy
A full-back who is as effective going forward as he is at the back, Lee Yong delivered by far and away the highest number of crosses in the 2018 competition as once again he stood out down Jeonbuk's right flank. Lee's pinpoint cross led to Kim Shin-wook heading home to reverse a 3-0 deficit against Suwon Samsung Bluewings in the quarter-finals, only for the Jeonju side to exit on penalties.
Zhang Linpeng – Guangzhou Evergrande
- 16 crosses from open play completed (#2 by a defender)
- 10 chances created
- 79.5% passing accuracy
One of the most recognisable players in the AFC Champions League, Zhang Linpeng played every minute of every game for Guangzhou Evergrande. The Jinan native was second only to Lee Yong when it came to crosses completed and was one of his team's main creators of chances before his side's campaign was cut short after an away goals defeat to Tianjin in the Round of 16.
Shoja Khalilzadeh – Persepolis
- 40 tackles made, 27 tackles won (both #1 by a defender)
- 80 clearances (#1 by a defender)
- 553 passes made (#1 by a defender)
A rock in the heart of the Persepolis defence, Shoja Khalilzadeh enjoyed a superb 2018 campaign and played a huge role in helping the Tehran giants reach the final for the first time. No player won more tackles or made more clearances than the centre-back, who was part of a backline that conceded fewer goals per game than any other side.
Gen Shoji – Kashima Antlers
- 64 clearances (#3 by a defender)
- 75% passing accuracy
- 77% tackle success rate
Captain of the tournament-winning team, Gen Shoji expertly marshalled the Kashima Antlers defence as they kept a pair of clean sheets in the final to overcome Persepolis, most notably remaining firm in front of 100,000 at Azadi Stadium. A composed presence on the ball and a fine reader of the game, Shoji's performances helped secure a move to France at the end of the season.
Jalal Hosseini – Persepolis
- 2 goals scored, 1 assist
- 7 clean sheets (#1 by a defender)
- 59 clearances
Fans' favourite Jalal Hosseini was not only excellent alongside Khalilzadeh in his side's defence, he also popped up with crucial goals along the way. The Persepolis captain's last-minute winner against Al Jazira in the last 16 sent Azadi Stadium into raptures before another goal against Al Duhail in the quarter-finals sparked a remarkable comeback in what was a memorable campaign for both club and player.
Pedro Miguel – Al Sadd
- 81.2% passing accuracy
- 76% tackle success rate
- 35 clearances
A near ever-present in the heart of Al Sadd's defence, Pedro Miguel was part of a backline that kept five clean sheets in their 12 games as the Doha side came so close to reaching their first final since 2011. The Portugal-born Qatar international remained consistent throughout in a team that was so often creating headlines for their attacking feats.
Kwon Kyung-won – Tianjin
- 86.5% passing accuracy
- 2 assists
- 54 clearances, 11 tackles won
An AFC Champions League finalist with Al Ahli in 2015, Kwon Kyung-won produced some stellar performances at the back as Tianjin reached the quarter-finals on what was their debut campaign. Kwon's goalbound assist for Anthony Modeste in the group stage clash with Kitchee SC helped secure a 1-0 victory and a place in the knockout rounds.
Choi Bo-kyung – Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors
- 77.6% passing accuracy
- 41 clearances
- 2 goals scored
Part of a Jeonbuk side that at times looked potential winners but ultimately came undone after a poor quarter-final first-leg showing against Suwon Samsung Bluewings, Choi Bo-kyung was reliable at the back and a threat in the opposition box. He netted twice in eight games, including in a spirited second-leg comeback against Suwon before a penalty shootout defeat.
Li Xuepeng – Guangzhou Evergrande
- 17 chances created (#1 by a defender)
- 15 successful crosses (#3 by a defender)
- 3 assists (Joint #1 by a defender)
No defender created more goals or more chances than Guangzhou Evergrande left-back Li Xuepeng as his fine deliveries from dead balls and open play again proved a key weapon in his side's armoury. Despite playing just eight games as his side exited at the last 16, just two players made more crosses than the China PR international's 46.
Abdelkarim Hassan – Al Sadd
- 11 shots (#2 for a defender), 1 goal
- 81% tackle success rate (#2 for a defender)
- 79% passing accuracy
One of the finest left-backs in Asian football, Abdelkarim Hassan's performances in Al Sadd's 2018 campaign were so impressive that they helped him win the AFC Player of the Year award at the end of the campaign. Notable for his powerful surges forward and thunderous left-foot, the Qatar international produced a typically stunning goal in the group stage win over Nasaf.
Shuto Yamamoto – Kashima Antlers
- 22 clearances
- 1 goal, 2 assists
- 6 tackles, 4 cleansheets
Shuto Yamamoto was in and out of the Kashima Antlers team in the group stage but an ever-present from the quarter-finals onwards, when the Ibaraki club kept four clean sheets in six games. The left-back's away goal in the semi-final second leg against Suwon Samsung Bluewings was crucial while he also created two goals in his side's triumphant campaign.
Kim Jin-su – Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors
- 2 goals, 3 assists
- 8 chances created
- 86.5% passing accuracy
While he only played four of Jeonbuk's eight games as injury cut short his tournament, Kim Jin-su's contribution was telling, scoring twice – including the winner in the opening-day victory over Kashiwa Reysol – and creating three goals, a tally that was equaled only by Li Xuepeng among his defensive contemporaries.
The polls end on July 22 at 11am (UTC+8) .The Best XI chosen by fans and the best XI based on the 2017 statistics will be announced at the beginning of August.
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