The 2018 edition of the AFC Champions League, Asia’s premier club football competition, is reaching its climax with the semifinals scheduled to be played over this midweek and the two-legged final to happen on November 3 and 11. So, we take a look at the attackers who have made it a habit of netting goals in the ACL after it adopted its current format back in 2002.
So, here’s AFC Champions League’s five leading goalscorers of all time as the tournament enters its business end.
5. RICARDO GOULART (Guangzhou Evergrande) – 25 goals
The 27-year-old Brazilian made his ACL debut for Chinese Super League side Guangzhou Evergrande back in 2015 and took to the competition like a duck to water. Since then he has scored 25 goals in only 38 appearances for the Chinese outfit. He was also the top scorer in the 2015 edition when Guangzhou won their second continental title defeating UAE’s Al Ahli in the final — making his debut ACL season a very memorable one.
Goulart was one of the early acquisitions by Guangzhou in 2015 as Chinese clubs went on a splurge in the transfer market — joining them from Brazil club Cruzeiro where he had won two league titles in 2014 and 2015. He was also called up by Brazil manager Dunga to represent the Selecao in 2014 and won his one and only cap so far in a 1-0 friendly win over Ecuador.
The Brazilian striker has also won the CSL on three successive seasons starting 2015 and the Chinese FA Cup in 2016. He had scored seven goals in the 2018 edition of the ACL as well but saw his side bow out after losing to Tianjin Quanjian in the Round of 16, despite him registering two in the second leg of the clash.
4. ELKESON DE OLIVIERA CARDOSO (Guangzhou Evergrande, Shanghai SIPG) – 27 goals
Elkeson used to form a formidable attacking partnership with Goulart at Guangzhou and will have his name written into club’s history forever — as he played a key role in both of their continental triumphs so far! In 2013, he scored one each in both legs as Guangzhou lifted their first Champions League title defeating FC Seoul 3-3 on away goals.
And in the 2015 final, he scored the team’s winning goal as they defeated Al-Hilal 1-0 at the Tianhe Stadium making him a legend in those parts of the Orient. But these days, the 29-year-old appears in the colours of Guangzhou’s regional rivals Shanghai SIPG lining alongside the likes of his Brazilian compatriots Hulk and Oscar.
However, one thing that has not changed for him is the knack of scoring goals in truckloads. He had his best goalscoring seasons in the Champions League with his former club scoring six in each of the 2013 and 2014 seasons. But he has been consistent for Shanghai too, scoring four goals in each of 2016, 2017 and 2018 campaigns.
3. NASSER AL-SHAMRANI ( Al Shabab, Al Hilal, Al Ain) – 29 goals
The 2014 AFC Asian Footballer of the Year has been a veteran of the tournament and has scored 29 goals in 53 appearances. The Saudi Arabian sniper had his first taste of the Champions League while he was on loan to Al Shabab from Al Wehda back in 2006 scoring three goals from five group matches.
However, the 35-year-old is yet to taste a title success in the continental competition coming closest in 2014 reaching the final which was won by A-League outfit Western Sydney Wanderers. He found the back of the net 10 times in Asia that season finishing only behind Al Ain FC’s Ghana star Asamoah Gyan (12 goals) in the scoring chart.
In his 17th season in professional football, Al-Shamrani now plies his trade back with Al Shabab after stints with Al Wehda, Al Hilal and Al Ain. He also has 19 goals to his name for his country Saudi. He was in the news in 2014 for wrong reasons after he received an eight-match ban for spitting and head-butting one of his Australian opponents after the final of the Champions League.
2. DEJAN DAMJANOVIC (FC Seoul, Beijing Guoan, Suwon Samsung Bluewings) – 35 goals
The Montenegrin has been a permanent fixture of the Asian Champions League ever since making his debut in the event for FC Seoul back in 2009. The 37-year-old has scored 35 times in 65 appearances in the competition so far which places him at second in the leading goalscorers’ chart for the continental competition.
Having spent eight seasons at the K-League side Seoul with a spell in China with a sojourn to China in 2014-15, Damjanovic signed for former Korean champions Suwon Bluewings in January this year with whom he is still alive in the 2018 ACL. He will face J-League’s Kashima Antlers in the second leg of the semifinal on Wednesday hoping to overturn a 3-2 defeat from the first.
The lanky striker has also individual honours in mind and revealed his intention to gun for the top scorer feat in a recent interview. “I have been playing for a long time in the ACL now which means I am doing good. But I want to make everything perfect at the end of my career. So, if I could win the Champions League and become its leading scorer, that will be a perfect end to my career,” Damjanovic said.
1. LEE DONG-GOOK (Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors) – 36 goals
Damjanovic has in front of him one of the legendary Asian strikers in Dong-Gook. The 39-year-old has scored 36 goals from 66 ACL matches — spread over eight seasons with K-League side Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors FC. And that number could have been greater taking into consideration that he was away from Asian football during his spells in England and Germany.
He won the Asian Club Championship, the former version of the ACL, in 1997-98 and won it in its present format with Jeonbuk 2016. The ACL all-time leading goalscorer was also the tournament top scorer (with nine goals) and most valuable player in the 2011 edition when Jeonbuk reached the final losing it to Qatari side Al-Sadd on penalties.
The Korean had a loan stint with Werder Bremen making seven Bundesliga appearances in 2000-01 and then made another move outside Asia with Middlesbrough in the English Premier League. He played 23 games in the English top flight during the season and also found his name on the scoresheet in the FA Cup and League Cup competitions.