Established names have proven themselves, while young talents have emerged in the six matchdays of the group stage. the-AFC.com profiles eight key players who have guided their teams into the next round.
Salman Al Muwashar – Al Ahli Saudi FC (KSA)
Al Ahli Saudi FC cruised to the top of Group A, sealing first place with a game to spare. At the heart of their attacking play was 31-year-old winger Salman Al Muwashar.
Capable of performing on both flanks and centrally, the former Al Hilal player has risen to prominence since joining Al Ahli in 2014, earning his international debut in 2015. He combines pace and trickery to a devastating effect as evidenced by his 50% dribble success rate.
In the group stage, Al Muwashar scored two goals in four appearances. Both his strikes came in the Matchday Two encounter against Esteghlal FC. The first was a composedly taken spot-kick and the second a calm finish after finding space behind the defence to get on the end of a quick counterattack.
Amir Arsalan Motahari – Esteghlal FC (IRN)
Esteghlal sealed their place in the Round of 16 in style on Matchday Six after defeating Al Ahli 3-0. Of the six goals they scored in the three-team Group A, only one player scored more than once, Amir Arsalan Motahari.
Despite still being 27, Motahari is an AFC Champions League veteran, having appeared in the competition with four different teams. He made his continental debut in the 2015 edition with Naft Tehran, then returning in 2018 with Tractor FC and last year with Zobahan before turning out in the blue of Esteghlal in the 2020 campaign.
Motahari won 21 duels in his four group stage appearances, while his movement off the ball was crucial to both his goals in the competition so far. Against Al Ahli in Matchday Two he took advantage of miscommunication in the opposition backline to steal the ball and finish from a tight angle, and against Al Shorta on Matchday Five he was perfectly positioned to follow up a spilled save from the goalkeeper and bag his second goal from just four shots on target this campaign.
Jalolidin Masharipov – Pakhtakor FC (UZB)
Pakhtakor ended a decade long wait to return to the AFC Champions League knockout stage, and arguably no player has been as influential to their journey to the top of Group B as winger Jaloliddin Masharipov.
The 27-year-old scored Pakhtakor’s first goal of the campaign 18 minutes into their opener against Shabab Al Ahli. Seven months later, he scored their last goal of the group stage, the winner in a 1-0 victory over Shahr Khodro that won them the group. In between the two goals, he also contributed two assists for the side.
The standout aspect of Masharipov demonstrated in the 2020 AFC Champions League is his exceptional ability to dribble past opponents. No player in the competition completed more dribbles than the Pakhtakor winger’s 27.
Pedro Conde – Shabab Al Ahli Dubai FC (UAE)
Shabab Al Ahli Dubai finished second in Group B, earning a place in the Round of 16 alongside Pakhtakor. And out of three goals scored by the Emirati side, two were scored by Pedro Conde.
The Spanish striker joined Shabab Al Ahli in January of 2019 after an impressive 2018-19 season in which he scored 18 goals from UAE Pro League side Bani Yas, and the 32-year-old added a different dimension to Shabab Al Ahli’s attack.
Among players with two or more goals in the competition, only two men have a higher shots conversion rate than the Spaniard’s 50%, highlighting the clinical nature of Conde in front of goal. Head coach Gerard Zaragoza will be hoping for more of the same from his countryman as Shabab Al Ahli lock horns with Al Ahli Saudi FC in the Round of 16.
Shojae Khalilzadeh – Persepolis FC (IRN)
Persepolis have found goals difficult to come by before bursting into life in their last match of Group C when they put four past Sharjah to advance in style to the Round of 16, but one man who was an unlikely, yet consistent, source of goals for the Iranians was centre-back Shojae Khalilzadeh.
Since moving to Azadi Stadium from Sepahan in 2017, Khalilzadeh has formed a strong defensive partnership with club captain Seyed Jalal Hosseini, but the 31-year-old proved he was equally important at the other end of the pitch too, scoring twice in the 2019 AFC Champions League campaign and adding two more this time around.
No player has made more recoveries than Khalilzadeh’s 53 and his 18 clearances are also the highest in the competition, two stats that highlight the important of the Persepolis number 3 in his side’s solid defence which conceded just one goal since the resumption of the competition in Qatar.
Abdulmajeed Al Swat – Al Taawoun FC (KSA)
Having started the campaign brightly, Al Taawoun lost three on the trot and needed a late rally to oust Al Duhail in Matchday Six and pip them to the top of the 2020 AFC Champions League Group C.
A product of Al Hilal’s youth system, Abdulmajeed Al Swat joined Al Taawoun in 2017 and was a key member of their side that appeared in that year’s AFC Champions League for the first time in the club’s history, scoring a memorable solo effort against Lokomotiv Tashkent.
In the 2020 campaign, Al Swat was his side’s leading creative outlet, creating more chances (6) than any other player in the squad and sending more passes into the final third (11) than any of his teammates. He also chipped in with a goal from midfield, scoring against Al Duhail on Matchday Two to seal a 2-0 win for Al Taawoun that later proved to be crucial.
Abderazzak Hamdallah – Al Nassr FC (KSA)
Saudi Arabia’s Al Nassr are taking the 2020 AFC Champions League by storm, winning the top spot of Group D and going five games unbeaten, losing only their last game against Al Ain once a place in the Round of 16 was confirmed.
Indispensable for coach Rui Vitoria’s men is Moroccan striker Abderrazaq Hamdallah. A veteran of the AFC Champions League, the 29-year-old is representing his fourth team in the competition, having previously played for Guangzhou R&F, El Jaish SC and Al Rayyan SC, but it is with Al Nassr that he is finding his best form, topping the competition’s scoring charts to date with five goals.
Hamdallah’s strength lies in his constant presence inside the opposition’s box and desire to get the ball in shooting positions. Indeed, only Al Sadd’s Baghdad Bounedjah had more shots on target in the competition than the Al Nassr hitman’s seven attempt on goal.
Baghdad Bounedjah – Al Sadd SC (QAT)
Just as Al Sadd finished in second place behind Al Nassr in Group D, their Algerian forward Bounedjah ended the group stage hot on the trail of Al Nassr’s Hamdallah in the scoring charts, with four goals to his name.
Bounedjah is no stranger to finding goals in the AFC Champions League, having won the top scorer award in the 2018 edition with an impressive tally of 13 goals as Al Sadd reached the semi-final. And after a quiet start to the 2020 campaign, Bounedjah showed blistering form since the restart to bag four goals in three games, include a brace in Matchday Four against Al Ain.
With service from the likes of Santi Cazorla and Akram Afif, and a persistence that saw him record a competition-high 11 shots on target, the Algerian international striker is set to be head coach Xavi’s most powerful attacking weapon going into the round of 16.