Kuala Lumpur, 5 September 2020 - The Asian Football Federation (AFC) website has listed two of former Al Sadd stars Xavi Hernandez and Nadir Belhadj among a total of eight for an online poll to choose the best player who has made made an appearance in the AFC Champions League.
Players have come from far and wide to take part in the AFC Champions League, with FIFA World Cup winners from Brazil, France and Spain, as well as numerous household names, featuring in Asia’s premier club competition.
Having highlighted many of the standout Asian performers over the past few months, this week the-AFC.com has picked out eight international stars who have helped light up the tournament since arriving at clubs across the Continent.
With candidates from South America, Europe and Africa, there is considerable talent in the selection. The other six chosen include Brazil-born Elkeson, Al Ittihad midfielder Tcheco, Dejan Damjanovic, of FC Seoul, Beijing FC and Suwon Samsung Bluewings, the charismatic Bafetimbi Gomis, Guangzhou Evergrande’s Paulinho, and Shanghai SIPG’s marquee signing Hulk.
Al Sadd’s former player Nadir Belhadj enjoyed six trophy-laden seasons and three successful AFC Champions League campaigns with Qatari giants Al Sadd, but his legacy at the side can be defined by one cooly converted penalty on November 5, 2011 at Jeonju World Cup Stadium. It was a spot-kick that crowned Al Sadd as Asia’s club kings, their first title under the AFC Champions League brand, and ended a marathon campaign that began in the play-off stage in February.
The Algerian played all but one of the 13 matches en route and also proved a near ever-present in Al Sadd’s appearances in the 2014 and 2015 tournaments. Voted Qatar Stars League Player of the Year in 2014, Belhadj left Asia in 2016 to return to former club Sedan in France.
He re-appeared on the Continental scene in January this year with Al Sailiya but the Qataris were defeated in the play-offs. Nevertheless, the man born in Saint-Claude, France will always be remembered for making dreams in Doha come true.
Xavi: Having joined Al Sadd in 2015, it wasn’t until 2018 that Spanish FIFA World Cup winner Xavi finally made his AFC Champions League debut; however, it was worth the wait as the midfield maestro proved he hadn’t lost his touch. Pulling the strings in the middle of the park, it was the likes of the 2018 top scorer Baghdad Bounedjah and Akram Afif who benefited most from his supreme vision.
Xavi’s presence inspired the Qataris to their first semi-final appearance since 2011 before they were edged out by Persepolis. The Spaniard returned a year later and scored some memorable goals in the group stage, including two perfectly executed free-kicks against Pakhtakor, before hanging up his boots mid-tournament to take on the head coach role.
The former Barcelona man guided Al Sadd to a second successive semi-final but they fell just short against eventual winners Al Hilal. Back again in 2020, the 40-year-old will hope he can take the Doha club one step further this time round.
You can visit the-afc.com website and cast your vote for your favourite Asian star till September 10.