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AFC Cup All-time XI: The Strikers

Kuala Lumpur: Three places remain in our All-time AFC Cup XI, with some of Asian football’s most iconic goal scorers to vie for a place in our fans’ dream selection.

Football lovers from every corner of Asia have selected a goalkeeper, three defenders and a four-man midfield in previous weeks, now it’s time to crown the tournament’s greatest ever forwards, with countless worthy contenders to choose from.

With a staggering 344 AFC Cup goals between them, we’ve selected the cream of the crop, including players hailing from Europe, Africa and South America, in our star-studded shortlist, now it’s up to you decide the final make-up of our ultimate team. Study our nominees below, and don’t forget to register your vote at the bottom of the page.

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Hammadi Ahmed – Iraq
Club: Air Force Club
AFC Cup goals: 27
Honours: AFC Cup winner (2016, 2017, 2018), MVP (2016, 2018), top scorer (2016)

Has there ever been a more remarkable contribution in just three editions of the competition? From a barely believable haul of 16 goals in just 12 matches in 2016, to his virtuoso displays in 2018, Iraq’s Hammadi Ahmed made the tournament his own during Air Force Club’s three-peat in the 2010s.

Eleven goals in a single group stage, goals in the 2016 and 2018 finals and several other statistical marvels make a strong case for the inclusion of a player who was the embodiment of one of the competition’s best ever teams.

Bienvenido Marańon – Spain
Club: Ceres-Negros FC
AFC Cup goals: 35
Honours: AFC Cup top scorer (2019)

Becoming the competition’s all-time top scorer is a statement in itself but doing it in less than five years is a true testament to the prolific Spaniard who has given defenders nightmares throughout Southeast Asia.

He scored nine in his opening five matches on the way to a competition-best haul in 2019, has scored two or more in a match on 10 different occasions, including three hat-tricks and, while Ceres-Negros – now United City FC – have never reached the AFC Cup final, Marañon’s exploits have ensured the club’s name will appear in the annals of the tournament for years to come.

Ali Ashfaq – Maldives
Clubs: Club Valencia, New Radiant SC, VB Addu, TC Sports Club
AFC Cup goals: 29

Ever since making his debut in the very first edition of the tournament as an 18-year-old in 2004, legendary Maldivian striker Ali Ashfaq has made outstanding contributions in front of goal, scoring in all 10 editions of the tournament in which he has appeared.

Ashfaq scored nine goals in the 2013 tournament despite starting only seven matches, with a stunning eight goals in two matches against Indonesia’s Persibo helping New Radiant SC top their group on the way to a quarter-final appearance.

Aleksandar Duric – Singapore
Clubs: Geylang International FC, Warriors FC, Tampines Rovers FC
AFC Cup goals: 32

In some ways it is surprising that no Hollywood film has been made about the life of Aleksandar Duric, but then again, perhaps there’s too much to fit into just two hours. A refugee, a Barcelona Olympic kayaker for Bosnia and, ultimately, one of the most prolific goal scorers in the history of Singaporean football, there is no sporting tale quite like his,

He was 33 when he made his AFC Cup debut, and more than a decade later he was still finding the net at the continental level. His finished second in the Golden Boot race in 2009 – a season which saw him bag four goals in a 6-1 win against Malaysia's Perak – and his career tally of 32 puts him equal third on the all-time list.

Mohamad Ghaddar – Lebanon
Clubs: Nejmeh, Kelantan, Tripoli Club
AFC Cup goals: 26
Honours: AFC Cup runner-up (2005), top scorer (2007)

Known on both sides of the continent for his ability to find the back of the net, Lebanon’s Mohamad Ghaddar was a feature of seven different AFC Cup seasons in a 13-year span, and almost always made an impact.

A losing finalist as a 21-year-old in 2005, and the Golden Boot winner two years later, Ghaddar’s statistical high point in the tournament came with Malaysian outfit Kelantan in 2012, when he scored eight goals in seven matches for a side which exited in the quarter-finals.

Sunil Chhetri – India
Clubs: Churchill Brothers, Bengaluru FC
AFC Cup goals: 18
Honours: AFC Cup runner-up (2016)

An iconic figure of the modern Indian game, and a player whose 72 national team goals have given him an international profile, Sunil Chhetri has also regularly shown his ample quality on the continental club stage in the AFC Cup.

Despite not appearing in the competition until his late twenties, Chhetri’s impact has lasted the best part of a decade.

He captained Bengaluru to the 2016 final, his personal high point coming when he scored twice in a classic semi-final performance to eliminate defending champions Johor Darul Ta’zim.

Mahmoud Shelbaieh – Jordan
Club: Al Wehdat
AFC Cup goals: 34
Honours: AFC Cup top scorer (2006)

Al Wehdat may never have put together a champion team in the AFC Cup, but they certainly had a champion goal scorer in Mahmoud Shelbaieh (pictured above, right).

He scored a hat-trick on his debut in the tournament, and seven goals in his first four games, and continued to star for much of the next decade.

By the time he retired in 2016, Shelbaieh was the competition’s all-time top scorer, a record he held until Bienvendio Marańon edged, and he retains a reputation of one of the deadliest finishers the competition.

Amjad Radhi - Iraq
Clubs: Arbil, Air Force Club
AFC Cup goals: 32
Honours: AFC Cup winner (2016, 2017, 2018), runner-up (2012, 2014), top scorer (2012)

A prolific goal scorer at club level since bursting onto the scene as a teenager, Amjad Radhi achieved the incredible feat of appearing in five AFC Cup finals in the space of seven seasons, winning the last three of them with Air Force Club.

To reach those finals, Radhi’s teams relied on his goals. Equal top scorer in the competition with nine in 2012, he went on the score in the seven separate AFC Cup knockout stages, and currently sits level with Aleksandar Duric at third on the tournament’s all-time scoring chart.

Rico – Brazil
Clubs: Muharraq, Riffa
AFC Cup goals: 30
Honours: AFC Cup winner (2008), runner-up (2006), top scorer (2008)

No collection of AFC Cup goal machines would be complete without Rico, the Brazilian forward who put together arguably the greatest individual campaign in tournament history in 2008, scoring a phenomenal 19 goals in only 12 appearances for Bahrain’s Muharraq.

His nine group stage goals included all four in a 4-0 win over India’s Dempo, but he saved his best for the final, where he achieved the unprecedented, and never repeated, feat of scoring a hat-trick in both legs of the decider to help his side to a stunning 10-5 aggregate win over Lebanon’s Safa.

Issam Jemaa – Tunisia
Club: Kuwait SC
AFC Cup goals: 27
Honours: AFC Cup winner (2012, 2013), top scorer (2013)

Isaam Jemaa only started 20 AFC Cup matches, but he scored 27 goals. If Rico was the wonder of the 2008 tournament, Kuwait SC’s Tunisian striker was arguably every bit as incredible in 2013, scoring 16 goals including one in the final to help his side lift the trophy.

He scored multiple goals in six of his 10 matches in that tournament, including seven in the two-legged quarter-final against New Radiant of the Maldives and he remains the only African player to have won the Golden Boot in the history of the tournament.

Abdelhadi Al Maharmeh - Jordan
Clubs: Al Faisaly, Shabab Al Ordon, Al Jazeera
AFC Cup goals: 23
Honours: AFC Cup winner (2005, 2006), runner-up (2007)

So close to becoming a three-time winner, Jordan’s Abdel-Hadi Al Maharmeh was the man Al Faisaly looked to for goals in their superb run of AFC Cup success in the mid-2000s, and his two goals in the 2006 final arguably marked his most memorable individual display in the competition.

His second-half brace in the first leg of the decider was pivotal in that year’s triumph, and while he wasn’t as statistically prolific as some of the other names on this list, but remained effective for a long time at the continental level.

Raja Rafe – Syria
Clubs: Al Shorta (SYR), Al Wahda (SYR)
AFC Cup goals: 19
Honours: Top scorer (2012)

A six-time top scorer in Syrian league football, Raja Rafe burst onto the AFC Cup season in incredible fashion in 2012, finishing as the competition’s equal top scorer with nine goals in only six matches before a mid-year move to Iraq cut his participation in the tournament short.

He returned to the competition with Al Wahda in 2016 and scored six goals in his first three matches – including four in a 5-2 win over eventual champions Air Force Clubs – to take his tally to 15 in nine games, and while he never reached the final of the tournament, Rafe’s heroics for separate Syrian clubs secured his reputation as an outstanding AFC Cup finisher.

Manuchehr Dzhalilov – Tajikistan
Club: FC Istiklol
AFC Cup goals: 12
Honours: AFC Cup runner-up (2015, 2017), MVP (2017)

Schooled in Russian football at youth level, Dzhalilov returned to his native Tajikistan at 24 and immediately set about making FC Istiklol one of the most competitive sides in the AFC Cup, scoring four goals as the Dushanbe club became the first from the country to reach the final in 2015.

His best campaign came in 2017, when he scored a hat-trick against Dordoi and two each against FC Alay and Ceres-Negros to be voted as the tournament’s outstanding player despite Istiklol falling to another defeat in the decider.

Poll ends at 17:00 (UTC+8) on April 2

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