With 90 minutes down and 90 still to play in the AFC Champions League 2019 quarter-finals, FOX Sports Asia football editor Gabriel Tan picks the five standout players from this week’s first-leg action.
The final-eight action got underway on Monday and it was Al Nassr who got off to a winning start, coming from behind to beat Al Sadd 2-1.
On Tuesday, Shanghai SIPG also produced a spirited fightback to claw back a two-goal deficit in a 2-2 draw with Urawa Red Diamonds, while Al Ittihad and Al Hilal played out a 0-0 stalemate in an all-Saudi Arabia contest.
Finally, Wednesday’s action saw Guangzhou Evergrande and Kashima Antlers share a 0-0 draw to leave the tie evenly poised ahead of next month’s return encounter.
AFC Champions League TOP 5 PERFORMERS ft. Anderson Talisca, Oscar & a sensational Japanese winger
Here, FOX Sports Asia picks the Top 5 from the quarter-final first-leg matches.
1) GIULIANO (AL NASSR)
Al Nassr were the only team to emerge victorious from four quarter-final ties and Giuliano certainly played a key role in their triumph.
The Brazilian playmaker has been a creative force for the Saudi Arabian outfit throughout the campaign but has also chipped in with goals, despite being primarily deployed as a No. 10.
It was his dangerous corner that led to Abdulrahman Al-Dossari smashing home the equaliser on Monday, before Giuliano himself popped up with the winner in the 72nd minute for his 6th goal of the campaign.
2) KAZUKI NAGASAWA (URAWA RED DIAMONDS)
Having largely played as a central midfielder in Urawa’s triumphant ACL campaign in 2017, Kazuki Nagasawa has had no problems adapting to his new position in the final third sitting just behind main striker Shinzo Koroki.
The former Cologne man regularly finds space to exploit with his intelligent movement, where he can then deal damage with his excellent technical ability.
AFC Champions League 2019: Shanghai SIPG 0-2 Urawa Red Diamonds (Shinzo Koroki 30′)
A third-minute freekick swung into the box forced SIPG goalkeeper Yan Junling into a mistake and paved the way for Tomoaki Makino to convert on the rebound, while it was a peach of a 40-yard pass that led to Koroki adding Urawa’s second goal on the half-hour mark.
3) OSCAR (SHANGHAI SIPG)
It might have been his Brazilian compatriot Hulk that converted the two penalties which earned SIPG the draw on Tuesday, but Oscar was the real catalyst behind his team’s stirring comeback.
Constantly dropping deep to receive possession, the ex-Chelsea star was involved in most of his side’s meaningful attacks, and also won the spot-kick that started their revival.
Given Marko Arnautovic is still finding his feet following a mid-year transfer from West Ham, Oscar could be needed to step up again in the second leg if the Chinese Super League champions are to reach the semi-finals.
4) SALEM AL-DAWSARI (AL HILAL)
Tuesday’s West Zone clash between Al Ittihad and Al Hilal may have ended goalless but there was no shortage of action, and it was the latter who arguably should have come away with the victory after peppering the opposition goal with 22 shots.
With the usually-prolific Bafetimbi Gomis well held by Ziyad Al-Sahafi and Abdulmohsen Fallatah, it was Salem Al-Dawsari who emerged as the biggest threat for the visitors.
The Saudi Arabia international gave the Al Ittihad backline a constant headache as he made his way into scoring positions, and might even have netted a brace had it not been for some assured goalkeeping by Fawaz Al-Qarni.
5) ANDERSON TALISCA (GUANGZHOU EVERGRANDE)
Anderson Talisca’s return to continental action for Evergrande – having missed the Round of 16 through injury – may have initially been overshadowed by the homecoming of Elkeson, who entered Wednesday’s tie with seven goals from his previous seven games after rejoining the club from SIPG.
Talisca with a well struck free kick and Sun-Tae does well to keep it out.
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Still, it did not take long for the 25-year-old to show he remains Evergrande’s main man in attack.
While Elkeson struggled to make an impact, it was Talisca who was asking questions of the Kashima defence with his incisive left-footed passes and no one tested Kwoun Sun-tae more than the mercurial Brazilian.