Kuala Lumpur: The 2018 AFC Champions League boasted an array of fine attacking talent with some world-class performers gracing Asia's most prestigious club competition.
After deciding the top goalkeeper, the best defence in front of him and the playmakers in midfield, we have eight players of our 2018 AFC Champions League Best XI confirmed, so now it's time to complete the jigsaw by voting for the men to lead the line up front.
So, without further ado, here are the eight players in contention for the three places in attack. Review the nominees and then choose your favourites for this all-star XI in the poll below.
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Baghdad Bounedjah – Al Sadd
- 13 goals scored (#1 by a forward)
- 49 shots (25 on target) (#1 by a forward)
- 3 assists
At the 2018 AFC Champions League the competition's top scorer, Baghdad Bounedjah, joined an exclusive group of Continental goalscorers when he netted 13 times to match the tally of most goals in a single tournament held jointly by Muriqui (2013) and Adriano (2016).
The Algerian was deadly inside the area, ably aided and abetted by playmakers old and young in Xavi and Akram Afif, and plundered seven goals from six group stage games before going on to find the target six more times in the knockout rounds. Simple finishes and fancy flicks were all in Bounedjah's repertoire as he put on an awesome demonstration of elite forward play.
Dejan Damjanovic – Suwon Samsung Bluewings
- 9 goals scored (joint #2 by a forward)
- 18 shots on target
- 34.6% shot conversaion rate
The AFC Champions League's second highest scorer Dejan Damjanovic appears once again in our series, having been among the nominees for the 2016 Best XI. In 2018, the Montenegrin conclusively showed that he really is the Continental game's equivalent to a fine red wine as he made his best ever return of nine goals despite turning 37 years old during the competition.
Turning out for Suwon Samsung Bluewings, his third side in the AFC Champions League, Damjanovic once again showed his clinical finishing with five goals in the group stage and then a vital brace to help eliminate Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors in the quarter-finals. A third semi-final appearance ended in disappointment despite two goals over the two legs against eventual champions Kashima Antlers.
Youssef El Arabi – Al Duhail
- 9 goals scored (joint #2 by a forward)
- 36% shot conversion rate
- 3 assists
Moroccan Youssef El Arabi enjoyed three astonishingly prolific seasons at Qatar's Al Duhail scoring an incredible 102 times in 88 matches in all competitions. During his time in Doha, El Arabi also appeared in three editions of the AFC Champions League, none more impressively so than the 2018 edition where he scored a sensational nine goals from nine games.
Six of those strikes came in three consecutive braces scored in Matchdays Two, Three and Four, all games Duhail won by just a single goal margin, while the then 31-year-old also fired three past Al Ain over two legs to claim Duhail's quarter-final place. In the final eight, though, El Arabi's scoring run came to an end and the Qataris' memorable winning run, like his 2018 tally, ended at nine.
Mame Thiam – Esteghlal
- 7 goals scored
- 10 shots on target
- 50% shot conversion rate (#1 by a forward)
Had Mame Thiam not left Esteghlal to join Emirati club Ajman ahead of the 2018 AFC Champions League quarter-finals it's entirely possible that the tournament could have had the mouth-watering prospect of a Tehran derby in the semi-finals.
The Senegalese striker ultimately spent just six months in the famous blue strip, but he fired in 12 goals in 13 appearances in all competitions, including seven in six Continental ties – a tally that featured a memorable hat-trick against Esteghlal's countrymen Zobahan in the Round of 16.
Kim Shin-wook – Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors
- 6 goals scored
- 18 chances created (#2 by a forward)
- 5 assists
While giant striker Kim Shin-wook may prefer the 2016 and 2012-winning campaigns with Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors and Ulsan Hyundai respectively, his 2018 campaign was just as impressive in terms of his personal performances where he was a consistent source of goals as scorer and provider.
Despite elimination in the quarter-finals by countrymen Suwon Samsung Bluewings, only Kashima Antlers' Yuma Suzuki – who played four matches more – created more chances than Kim, while his six goals and five assists is an impressive return from just eight starts.
Ali Alipour – Persepolis
- 5 goals scored
- 35 shots on goal, 21 on target (#2 by a forward)
- 65 duels won
Persepolis' run to the final was built on a solid backline, with goalkeeper Alireza Beiranvand and defenders Shojae Khalizadeh and Jalal Hosseini already included in the relevant categories for our Best 2018 XI, but defence alone does not win games, and Ali Alipour was the main outlet up front for the Tehran giants.
Having scored just one goal in his previous two Continental campaigns, Alipour netted a brace in the 2018 opener against Nasaf before adding another against Al Wasl as Persepolis topped Group C. Alipour saved his next two goals for vital moments in the knockout stages as he scored against Al Jazira in the Round of 16 and Al Sadd in the semi-finals to help his club into their first AFC Champions League final.
Yuma Suzuki – Kashima Antlers
- 2 goals scored, 4 assists
- 19 chances created (#1 by a forward)
- 102 duels won (#1 by a foward)
Yuma Suzuki may not have scored many goals in Kashima Antlers' Continental-title winning campaign, but the young forward's overall game was so important to his side that he deservedly won the competition's MVP award and was nominated for 2018 AFC Player of the Year at just 22 years old.
Suzuki played every one of Kashima's matches and the six-footer used his physical presence as an important base to bring in the team's more clinical attackers. His selfless play saw Suzuki win more duels than any other player in the tournament and he created more chances than any other forward.
Alexandre Pato – Tianjin
- 4 goals scored
- 65 dribbles attempted (#2 by a forward)
- 13 chances created
Former AC Milan and Brazil star Alexandre Pato took part in just the single AFC Champions League campaign before he returned to his homeland, but the exciting forward shone in the 2018 edition, putting on moments of real quality and skill.
The then 27-year-old scored in three consecutive group stage ties to help Tianjin edge into the Round of 16, before getting arguably his most important goal as he netted against Guangzhou Evergrande to take his side into the quarter-finals on away goals.
The poll ends on Friday, August 7 at 4pm (UTC+8). The Best XI chosen by fans and the best XI based on the 2018 statistics will be announced on Sunday, August 9.
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