FOX Sports Asia football editor Gabriel Tan picks five players that impressed the most in the second leg of the West Zone action in the AFC Champions League 2019 Round of 16.
Following the summer break, it has not taken AFC Champions League 2019’s West Zone long at all to get back into its groove with the quarter-final lineup now set in stone.
Al Nassr were the first to progress to the quarter-finals as they came from behind to beat Al Wahda 3-2 on Monday for a 4-3 aggregate triumph, which was followed by another thriller as Al Ittihad defeated Zob Ahan 4-3 to advance 6-4 on aggregate.
On Tuesday, Al Sadd handed Xavi his first win as a manager by beating Al Duhail 3-1 for a 4-2 aggregate victory, while Al Hilal also reached the last eight 4-3 on aggregate despite a 1-0 defeat to Al Ahli.
TOP 5: Outstanding performers from the AFC Champions League Ro16 west zone
Here, FOX Sports Asia picks the top five performers as the Round of 16 came to a close.
1) ABDERRAZAK HAMDALLAH (AL NASSR)
Giuliano may have been Al Nassr’s two-goal hero on Monday, but it was Abderrazak Hamdallah who shone the brightest with a dominant display up forward.
Having only netted once throughout the entire group stage, the Morocco international added two goals in as many games in the Round of 16 and him finding form in the latter rounds of the campaign bodes well for his side’s chances.
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With Al Wahda unable to cope with his sheer strength and clever movement, Hamdallah equalised with a fine header from a Fahad Al-Jumeiah cross before proving he has skills for a big man too, as his sublime first-time back-heel on the edge of the box paved the way for Giuliano’s first of the evening.
2) ISMAIL MATAR (AL WAHDA)
Al Wahda’s brave run in the tournament ultimately came to an end in the Round of 16 but they can be proud of their displays this year, and it certainly was not for lack of trying on the part of Ismail Matar.
The 36-year-old, who captained United Arab Emirates in their run to the AFC Asian Cup 2019 semi-finals back in January, rolled back the years with an influential display in the hole.
It was his probing pass that led to Leonardo feeding Mohammed Al-Menhali for the opening goal of the night, and Matar then showed he still has plenty left in the tank – even in the 79th minute – when refused to give up on a lost cause down the left in the build-up to a Sebastian Tagliabue strike.
Made. Us. Proud.
Good luck next time around! 🇱🇻 pic.twitter.com/IzdZuOvSIg
— Arabian Gulf League (@AGLeague_EN) August 12, 2019
3) EMILIANO VECCHIO (AL ITTIHAD)
It initially looked as though Al Ittihad would be denied as they found Mohammad Bagher Sadeghi in outstanding form, as the Zob Ahan goalkeeper produced three stunning saves to deny Romarinho, Carlos Villanueva and Luis Jimenez.
But, where his fellow foreign imports failed, Emiliano Vecchio emerged as an unlikely source of the breakthrough just before the break as he broke forward and found the bottom corner with a clinical left-footed finish.
The Argentine defensive midfielder only just arrived at the King Abdullah Sports City in the off-season, but impressed over the two legs with his excellent shielding off the defence and his tidy distribution that usually initiates an Al Ittihad foray forward.
4) MOHAMMED AL-OWAIS (AL AHLI)
It was not to be for Al Ahli as they were ultimately eliminated by Al Hilal, but they at least had the consolation of bowing out with a win as they defeat bitter rivals Al Hilal 1-0.
While it was Abdulfattah Asiri who netted the winner on Tuesday, it was goalkeeper Mohammed Al-Owais who arguably impressed the most as he kept the opposition’s prolific attack – boasting the likes of Bafetimbi Gomis and Sebastian Giovinco – at bay.
The Saudi Arabia international produced a fine fingertip save in the 29th minute to keep out an 18-yard drive by Gomis, and was excellent with his handling throughout the 90 minutes.
5) ABDELKARIM HASSAN (AL SADD)
It has been a memorable 12 months for Abdelkarim Hassan after being named the 2018 AFC Player of the Year, which was followed with success at AFC Asian Cup 2019 with Qatar.
And the rampaging left-back has continued his rich vein of form so far this year, playing a pivotal role in Al Sadd claiming the Qatar Stars League crown and now reaching the quarter-finals of ACL 2019.
AFC Champions League 2019: Al Sadd SC 2-0 Al Duhail SC (Abdelkarim Hassan 34′)
After Akram Afif had opened the scoring for the hosts, Abdelkarim doubled their lead with a thunderous freekick and it was the danger he posed in the opposition area that forced Ahmed Yasser into scoring an own-goal deep into injury-time.