FOX Sports Asia football editor Gabriel Tan picks the five players who impressed the most in the first legs of the AFC Champions League Round of 16 ties in the East Zone.
AFC Champions League 2019 officially entered the knockout stage this week with eight sides in the East Zone doing battle.
Tuesday’s action saw reigning champions Kashima Antlers claim a narrow 1-0 win over Sanfrecce Hiroshima, while Guangzhou Evergrande defeated Shandong Luneng 2-1.
On Wednesday, Ulsan Hyundai came from behind to beat Urawa Red Diamonds 2-1, before Shanghai SIPG and Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors drew 1-1 in an intriguing duel.
Here, FOX Sports Asia takes a closer look at the five players who shone the brightest in the first legs of the AFC Champions League Round of 16 action in the East.
1) SHOMA DOI (KASHIMA ANTLERS)
It must be every coach’s dream to have a player of Shoma Doi’s versatility and he certainly carried out his role to perfection against Sanfrecce.
Usually a midfielder, the 27-year-old was deployed up front alongside Serginho in a traditional 4-4-2 and pressed high when his side were defending, but then dropped deeper to receive the ball once Kashima were in possession.
Highlights – Kashima Antlers vs Sanfrecce Hiroshima
And Doi ultimately weighed in with a vital contribution in the 24th minute as he latched onto Serginho’s flick-on header and then embarked on a 40-yard charge into the area before his deflected cross was nodded home by his strike partner for the winner.
2) PAULINHO (GUANGZHOU EVERGRANDE)
After dominating Chinese football for the past seven years or so, Guangzhou Evergrande have recently found themselves being challenged by a couple of upstarts including Shanghai SIPG, who beat them to the Super League title last season.
On Tuesday, they faced another challenger in Shandong but showed they are still the masters with Paulinho putting on a real display as he caused the opposition defence all sorts of problems while also assisting Wei Shihao’s opener.
AFC Champions League 2019: Guangzhou Evergrande 1-0 Shandong Luneng (Wei Shihao 35′)
In his second spell at the Tianhe Stadium now following a brief but successful stint with Barcelona, the Brazil international should eventually go down as one of the best foreigners in Evergrande – and the CSL’s – history.
3) KIM IN-SUNG (ULSAN HYUNDAI)
While Ulsan Hyundai have not exactly blown everyone away in the ACL this season, they have reached this far on the back of everyone in the team knowing their role and getting the job done effectively without much fuss.
Kim In-sung is exactly one of those players who consistently contributes and his enterprise down the left flank went a long way in helping his side secure a come-from-behind win against Urawa.
Highlights – Urawa Red Diamonds vs Ulsan Hyundai
Despite seemingly heading down a dead end in the 42nd minute, Kim managed to create enough space to float an excellent cross for Joo Min-kyu to convert for the equaliser, which set the stage for Hwang Il-su to win it for Ulsan with ten minutes remaining.
4) MOON SEON-MIN (JEONBUK HYUNDAI MOTORS)
Moon Seon-min may not be the most famous name at Jeonbuk but the fact that he started two of Korea Republic’s three games at the 2018 FIFA World Cup – including the stunning 2-0 win over Germany – highlights just how highly rated he is.
With Ricardo Lopes absent through illness on Wednesday, Moon took the Brazilian’s usual spot on the left wing and needed just 51 seconds to make an impact as he opened the scoring with a clever flick over Yan Junling.
AFC Champions League 2019: Shanghai SIPG 0-1 Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors (Moon Seon-Min 1′)
The 27-year-old constantly offered Jeonbuk an outlet by finding space on the wing before looking to create something in the final third, and he could easily have inspired his side to victory were it not for some wasteful finishing from both himself and his team-mates.
5) YU HAI (SHANGHAI SIPG)
While the fabled front three of Hulk, Oscar and Elkeson all failed to inflict any damage on Jeonbuk, Shanghai SIPG can be grateful that their wing-backs rose to the occasion to earn them a draw.
After the visitors failed to properly clear their lines, Yu Hai was alert enough to hang the ball back inside the area and found Wang Shenchao, who improvised well to head home the equaliser.
AFC Champions League 2019: Shanghai SIPG 1-1 Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors (Wang Shenchao 39′)
Yu was also steady in carrying out his defensive duties in an enthralling battle with Bernie Ibini-Isei and his commitment to the cause was clear for all to see, as he played on despite having to receive treatment on his bleeding and heavily bandaged head on numerous occasions following a nasty collision.