AFC Champions League Round of 16: The Top 5

Gabriel Tan Gabriel Tan

“Same Same But Different: Your Asian Football Show” picks the five standout players from the AFC Champions League Round of 16 first leg action.

With 90 minutes played and another 90 still to go, the AFC Champions League Round of 16 remains evenly poised in both the West and East Zones.

Only the eight ties were decided by more than a single goal, with Kashima Antlers stunning tournament favourites Shanghai SIPG 3-1, while a dominant Al Duhail defeated Al Ain 4-2.

There was no separating Tianjin Quanjian and two-time champions Guangzhou Evergrande as the all-Chinese affair ended 0-0, and the clash between two South Korean giants saw Ulsan Hyundai beat Suwon Samsung Bluewings 1-0.

Buriram United caused a real upset as they beat Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors 3-2, which was also the same scoreline which Al Jazira beat Persepolis by courtesy of a 96th-minute winner.

Finally, an injury-time penalty saw Zob Ahan beat Iranian compatriots Esteghlal 1-0, while Al Sadd claimed a 2-1 triumph over Al Ahli.

Here, FOX Sports Asia picks the five best performers from the first leg of the Round of 16 action in Asia’s premier club competition.

Boualem Khoukhi (Al Sadd)

Boualem Khoukhi may have made his name as a skilful winger but he has proven to be equally adept performing his current role in the heart of the Al Sadd midfield.

The Algerian-born Qatar international’s tireless running and tidy distribution allows legendary playmaker Xavi the freedom to pull the strings in an advanced position.

Nonetheless, Khoukhi never misses the opportunity to push forward in attack and his two goals on Monday were pivotal in handing Al Sadd an important first-leg win.

Edgar Silva (Buriram United)

It was a toss-up between Edgar Silva and his strike partner Diogo, who were both pivotal in Buriram’s victory over 2016 champions Jeonbuk.

But, while the latter arguably had the greater influence in the attacking third, it was impossible to look past the former’s two-goal contribution.

The 31-year-old Brazilian capitalised on the first chance that came his way when he nodded home a 6th-minute opener, before grabbing his side’s third with a fantastic solo dribble through the middle.

Mohammad Mazaheri (Zob Ahan)

It is usually the attacking players that get all the plaudits so, when a goalkeeper puts in a performance like Mohammad Mazaheri’s on Tuesday, it becomes impossible to omit it.

When Zob Ahan were under the cosh early on, Mazaheri produced a series of outstanding saves to keep Esteghlal at bay.

And, with question marks continuing to be raised around Alireza Beiranvand’s status as Iran’s No. 1 for the upcoming FIFA World Cup, a couple more excellent displays would not hurt Mazaheri’s chances of adding to the handful of caps he was won thus far.

Nam Tae-hee (Al Duhail)

Having made his debut in France’s Ligue 1 for Valenciennes at the tender age of 18, Nam Tae-hee’s decision to move to Qatari outfit Lekhwiya in 2012 was viewed by many as a curious one.

But, now into his 7th year at the club – who have since been rebranded as Al Duhail – the 26-year-old looks to be perfectly happy plying his trade in the Middle East as a pivotal member of a side who are emerging as genuine contenders in the ACL this year.

Nam shuffles across the three attacking midfield positions depending on where manager Djamel Belmadi most needs him but arguably does his best work as a No. 10, as he showed with his goal and assist in Tuesday’s dominant win over Al Ain.

Yuma Suzuki (Kashima Antlers)

Yuma Suzuki’s opener against Shanghai SIPG on Wednesday may have only been his second goal of the campaign, but the forward adds so much more to Kashima Antlers than just goals.

His selfless off-the-ball movement often helps create space for team-mates like Mu Kanazaki to exploit, and the 22-year-old is also always more than willing to lay on assist rather than go for goal himself.

It is his determination to challenge for every ball that forced Yu Hai to score an own-goal for Kashima’s third, a goal which could yet prove to be decisive in the tie.