FOX Sports Asia football editor Gabriel Tan picks the eight best performers from the final round of group stage action in AFC Champions League 2019.
THE TOP 8: AFC Champions League 2019 match day 6 (part 1)
1) BAFETIMBI GOMIS (AL HILAL)
With the addition of Sebastian Giovinco in January, Al Hilal are one of the sides that boast genuine star quality in AFC Champions League 2019 but another famous name with top-level European experience that was there even before is Bafetimbi Gomis.
Having had spells in Ligue 1 and the Premier League with Saint-Etienne, Lyon, Marseille and Swansea, the Frenchman was always going to be quite a force to be reckoned with playing in Asia.
And, with two goals to his name in the ACL prior to Monday, Gomis doubled his tally with a clinical brace in Al Hilal’s 2-2 draw with Al Duhail.
2) MEHDI TORABI (PERSEPOLIS)
Runners-up just last year, Persepolis have had a far more disappointing time in the ACL this season as they finished bottom of highly-competitive Group D, with just three points separating first from last.
One of the biggest positives has been the emergence of Mehdi Torabi, who joined from Saipa at the end of last year and has really kicked on after starring for Iran at AFC Asian Cup 2019.
Torabi is the kind of player that can win a game on his own and did just that against Al Sadd, opening the scoring from all of 35 yards before laying on a second for Ali Alipour with an enterprising run and through-pass.
3) OSCAR (SHANGHAI SIPG)
With Hulk absent from the starting XI in Tuesday’s game against Ulsan Hyundai, it was only natural to expect Oscar to step up for Shanghai SIPG but he probably outdid his own expectations by inspiring his team to a 5-0 triumph.
Having opened his account with a neat finish after exchanging passes with Elkeson, the former Chelsea star then produced the pick of the bunch in the 42nd minute when he created space on the edge of the box with a lovely spin before bending a sublime effort into the far corner.
There was still time for Oscar to complete his hat-trick in the second half with the result proving enough to propel SIPG into the Round of 16 at the expense of Kawasaki Frontale.
4) KAZUKI NAGASAWA (URAWA RED DIAMONDS)
Kazuki Nagasawa did not even start Urawa Red Diamonds’ game against Beijing Guoan but, after Yosuke Kashiwagi picked up an injury in the opening exchanges and had to be replaced in the 13th minute, he came on to devastating effect.
The 27-year-old, who previously played in the Bundesliga with Cologne, broke the deadlock when he showed great composure and deft feet to find space inside the box and finish past Zou Dehai, before assisting Yuki Muto to make it 2-0.
Having been part of the Urawa side that won the ACL back in 2017, Nagasawa could just have another shot at it this year with the J1 League side slowly but steadily gaining momentum.
THE TOP 8: AFC Champions League 2019 match day 6 (part 2)
5) SUPACHOK SARACHAT (BURIRAM UNITED)
Considering he has been one of Buriram United’s few bright sparks in a disappointing campaign, it was fitting that Supachok Sarachat was their best performer as they signed off with a 0-0 draw against Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors.
With Pedro Junior not included in the trip to Korea Republic, Supachok took it upon himself to lead his team’s attack and caused plenty of problems for the opposition defence with his direct running and close control.
Given Buriram no longer have the distraction of the ACL, the priority must be to get back on track in Thai League 1 and catch early-season leaders Port FC to ensure they are playing in Asia’s premier club competition again in 2020.
6) ALAA ABBAS (AL ZAWRAA)
Neutrals would have been sad to see Al Zawraa eliminated on Tuesday considering they have been one of the competition’s most-exciting sides.
But, the Iraqis certainly went out on a high with one final hurrah in a 5-1 thrashing of Al Wasl and Alaa Abbas has certainly proven throughout the campaign that he belongs at this level.
The 21-year-old produced two exquisite finishes for a brace to take his final tally to six goals, a figure that actually sees him share the lead in the scoring charts with Graziano Pelle and Omar Al-Soma.
7) LEO SILVA (KASHIMA ANTLERS)
Kashima Antlers stayed alive in the tournament on Wednesday with a stunning comeback to beat Shandong Luneng 2-1 courtesy two goals in three minutes from substitute Sho Ito.
However, the most influential player in their revival was midfield general Leo Silva, who was never afraid to get stuck in and regularly got them on the front foot with his decisive passing, especially in the second half.
It was his corner that led to Shuto Yamamoto flicking the ball on for Ito’s equaliser, before the striker had Silva to thank again shortly after as he was played through for his second goal by a visionary pass from the Brazilian.
8) FARIZAL MARLIAS (JOHOR DARUL TA’ZIM)
In the end, it was not to be for Johor Darul Ta’zim as a 2-0 defeat to Gyeongnam FC ended their hopes of progressing to the Round of 16.
Nonetheless, for awhile, it really looked as though they could pull off a miracle especially with goalkeeper Farizal Marlias proving unbeatable initially.
Farizal did brilliantly to deny Luc Castaignos a 9th-minute opener from point-blank range on the rebound before producing another crucial stop in a one-on-one with Bae Ki-jong in the second half, although JDT’s resisitance ultimately crumbled.