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Xavi on track for Champions League double


Kuala Lumpur: When AFC Champions League action resumes in a little over two weeks’ time, one man will be looking to achieve what no other player has done before: complete an AFC Champions League-UEFA Champions League double.

Having won an incredible four UEFA Champions League titles with Barcelona as part of what was arguably the greatest club side to ever play the game, Spanish midfielder Xavi Hernandez was a huge coup for Al Sadd when he joined in 2015.

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The 2010 FIFA World Cup winner would have to wait almost three years to make his AFC Champions League bow, though, as defeats in the play-off round in 2016 to the United Arab Emirates' Al Jazira and Esteghlal of Islamic Republic of Iran a year later denied him the chance of appearing on Asia’s biggest stage.

However, success in the 2017 Emir Cup meant it was third time lucky for the Spaniard as 2011 AFC Champions League winners Al Sadd avoided the dreaded play-off round to advance directly to the group stage of the continental competition.

Unsurprisingly, Xavi was key to Al Sadd’s progression to their first quarter-final since 2014, with three assists and a goal, but with his contract expiring at the end of the 2017-18 Qatar Stars League campaign it seemed the 38-year-old may have missed his chance of a continental double.

Having earlier stated his intention to retire, the decorated midfielder had a change of heart and signed a two-year extension to his deal in Doha. He will now lead his team out against Esteghlal at Azadi Stadium on August 27 as the former Barcelona captain looks to write a new piece of history.

Xavi is not the first player to attempt to achieve the feat, and the-AFC.com takes a look back at some of the others who have come close before falling short in the latter rounds.


RivaldoUEFA Champions League Winner, A.C. Milan, 2002-03; AFC Champions League Semi-Finalist, Bunyodkor, 2008

On the back of winning the 2002 FIFA World Cup with Brazil, Rivaldo swapped Barcelona for A.C. Milan and less than a year later the forward was lifting his first and only UEFA Champions League title, after the Rossoneri defeated Juventus on penalties in an all-Italian final.

Spells in his homeland and Greece followed before Rivaldo stunned the world by signing for Uzbek side Bunyodkor in August 2008. With the Tashkent club already in the AFC Champions League quarter-finals, the glamour signing scored home and away against Iran's Saipa as a semi-final place was secured.

It was not to be, though, as Bunyodkor were eliminated by Australia's Adelaide United in the last four. Rivaldo returned a year later to help guide his side to the quarter-finals, where they fell to eventual winners Pohang Steelers of Korea Republic, before he departed Tashkent in 2010 after last 16 elimination.


Seydou KeitaUEFA Champions League Winner, Barcelona, 2008-09 & 2010-11; AFC Champions League Semi-Finalist, El Jaish, 2016

An unsung hero in the star-studded Barcelona squad of peak Xavi era, Seydou Keita was part of the sides that claimed UEFA Champions League glory in 2009 and 2011, with the former Malian international coming off the bench in both finals against Manchester United.

The defensive midfielder would join Qatar club El Jaish several years later and got his first and only crack at the AFC Champions League in 2016 when, like Rivaldo, he teamed up with his new side at the quarter-final stage.

A debut in the victory over the UAE’s Al Nasr followed but, as captain, Keita could not lead the Doha side to their first final after suffering a 5-3 aggregate defeat to the UAE's Al Ain in the semi-finals.


PaulinhoAFC Champions League Winner, Guangzhou Evergrande, 2015; UEFA Champions League Quarter-Finalist, Barcelona, 2017-18

Going in the opposite direction, Paulinho announced his arrival at Guangzhou in style when he rocketed in a free-kick from fully 40 yards on his debut at Kashiwa Reysol in the first leg of the 2015 quarter-finals as the Brazilian began the process of banishing his Tottenham Hotspur misery to the past.

 

Kashiwa were then ousted by another Japanese team, Gamba Osaka, in the semi-finals, before the box-to-box midfielder helped Guangzhou to a second continental title after a narrow 1-0 aggregate win over the UAE’s Al Ahli in the final.

Paulinho joined Barcelona in 2017 and a 4-1 win over Roma in the first leg of the UEFA Champions League quarter-finals seemingly had the Catalans cruising into the last four, before a stunning collapse in the return meeting saw the Italians progress. Following the 2018 FIFA World Cup, Paulinho returned to Guangzhou.

The Coaches

While the AFC Champions League-UEFA Champions League double continues to elude the big-name players, one man can lay claim to having hoisted both trophies above his head: Italian coach Marcello Lippi.

The 2006 FIFA World Cup winner claimed Europe’s biggest club prize with Juventus when they defeated Dutch side Ajax in the 1995-96 final, before he guided Guangzhou to their first AFC Champions League title after seeing off FC Seoul in the 2013 showpiece event.

And while Paulo Sousa – who won back-to-back UEFA Champions League titles with Juventus and Borussia Dortmund in the nineties – may have missed the chance to win both as a player, he could achieve a unique player-coach double.

The Portuguese leads Tianjin Quanjian into an AFC Champions League quarter-final clash against Japan's Kashima Antlers, with the Chinese side looking to become the first debutants to be crowned champions since Western Sydney Wanderers in 2014.

Photos: Getty Images

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