Kuala Lumpur: The fans' best XI of the 2017 AFC Champions League was decided last week, so now the-AFC.com turns to the next chapter of the Continent's most prestigious club tournament, the 2018 edition, to determine the top 11 players.
To select the candidates for each position, we have reflected on match data from the tournament to draw up a statistics-based approach to present the outstanding performers.
We begin with five candidates for the all-important number one shirt. Review the nominees and then choose your favourite goalkeeper to helm the rearguard for this all-star XI in the poll below.
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Alireza Beiranvand – Persepolis
- 14 appearances, 12 goals conceded
- 7 clean sheets (#1 for goalkeepers)
- 69.3% save percentage
Alireza Beiranvand went into the latter stages of the competition on the back of famously denying Ronaldo from the spot at the 2018 FIFA World Cup and the Persepolis custodian would thwart yet another global superstar with one of the standout moments of the 2018 AFC Champions League.
With the second leg of the semi-final against Al Sadd in its dying moments and on a knife edge, Beiranvand's flying world-class save somehow kept out Xavi's goalbound header as the Tehran giants advanced to the final for the first time. A moment of pure class in what was an outstanding campaign.
Kwoun Sun-tae – Kashima Antlers
- 10 appearances, 10 goals conceded
- 4 clean sheets
- 76.7% save percentage (#1 for goalkeepers)
A winner in 2006 and 2016 with Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors, Kwoun Sun-tae became the first player to ever win three AFC Champions League titles, and he did so by producing some stellar performances as Kashima Antlers' last line of defence.
The Korean custodian kept a pair of clean sheets in both legs of the quarter-final against Tianjian Quanjian and then again in the final against Persepolis, most notably managing a shutout in front of 100,000 fans at Tehran's Azadi Stadium in the second leg to write his name into the history books.
Shin Hwa-yong – Suwon Samsung Bluewings
- 8 appearances, 14 goals conceded
- 3 clean sheets
- 2 penalties saved (#1 for a goalkeeper), 53.3% save percentage
When it comes to shot-stopping heroics in the 2018 campaign, Suwon Samsung Bluewings 'keeper Shin Hwa-yong rivals anyone, with the custodian expertly saving four penalties against domestic rivals to help his side all the way to the semi-finals.
Shin denied Ulsan Hyundai's Mislav Orsic at a crucial stage in the last 16, before keeping out Jeonbuk's Adriano in stoppage time of the second leg of the quarter-finals. That save forced a shootout, where both Kim Shin-wook and Lee Dong-gook saw their efforts parried away by the on-form custodian.
Zhang Lu – Tianjin
- 9 appearances, 16 goals conceded
- 3 clean sheets
- 37 saves (Joint #1 for a goalkeeper), 69.8% save percentage
The debutants, then known as Tianjin Quanjian, came into the 2018 edition with an array of attacking talent but, as so often when a side is replete with forwards, the defence is worked even harder, but Zhang Lu proved a reliable presence, making the joint highest number of saves in the competition.
Zhang's third of three clean sheets was his most important contribution as he shut domestic rivals Guangzhou Evergrande out in the first leg of the last 16. The scoreless draw was followed by a 2-2 stalemate in Guangdong with Tianjin progressing on away goals.
Song Beom-keun – Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors
- 8 appearances, 10 goals conceded
- 5 clean sheets
- 62.9% save percentage
Song Beom-keun enjoyed a breakthrough 2018, establishing himself as Jeonbuk's Number 1 at the age of just 20 after making his AFC Champions League debut away at Hong Kong's Kitchee SC in the group stage.
While Beiranvand's seven clean sheets was the tournament's best, it took him 14 games to manage the feat, while Song kept five in just eight games. Jeonbuk's most damaging defeat, the 3-0 semi-final first-leg loss to Suwon, meanwhile, came when the youngster was away winning Asian Games gold with Korea Republic.
Now that you've seen all five great goalkeepers, vote for your best in the poll and secure them a place in the Best XI for the 2018 AFC Champions League. Poll ends at 1600 (UTC 8) on July 18.
The Best XI chosen by fans and the Best XI based on the 2018 statistics will be announced at the beginning of August.
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