Doha: With the return of the AFC Champions League just around the corner, we take a look at the strikers who are poised to make a difference in the Western side of the continent as their sides vie for Round-of-16 spots.
We analyse six strikers who have already played a part in this season’s edition of the competition, and have also performed admirably in their clubs’ domestic campaigns.
Bafetimbi Gomis (Al Hilal SFC)
Al Hilal SFC’s French striker scores for fun whenever he is on the pitch, evident with his return of 29 goals in 34 appearances in all competitions this season so far, continuing the fine form that saw him emerge top scorer in the 2019 AFC Champions League with 11 goals.
Gomis’ hat-trick in the 4-1 thumping of Al Hazem at the end of August sealed the Saudi Pro League title for his club, taking his tally to over 20 goals in the league for the second season running.
The former Olympic Lyon forward has already scored three goals in two AFC Champions League appearances this campaign, two of which came against Shabab Al Ahli Dubai on Matchday Two. He is currently joint top scorer in the competition with three goals, on par with Al Sadd SC’s Hassan Al Haydos and Vissel Kobe’s Keijiro Ogawa.
Omar Al Somah (Al Ahli Saudi FC)
Although he has yet to appear in the 2020 AFC Champions League due to injury, Al Somah continued to hit the heights that have become his norm for Al Ahli Saudi FC domestically, chalking up an impressive 20 goals in 26 games in all competitions so far.
The Syrian international’s prolific record is not limited to the local front, though. With 18 goals in 24 games to his name, including five goals in his last five games in the competition, Al Somah has proved equally ruthless in the AFC Champions League.
Al Ahli bowed out to rivals Al Hilal in the Round of 16 last time around, and if the Jeddah-based side are to successfully navigate the group stage once more, they will be heavily reliant on the prowess of the 31-year-old to drive them forward in the remaining group matches.
Kodjo Laba (Al Ain FC)
The Togolese striker joined Al Ain FC in 2019 from Moroccan side RS Berkene, who he had led to the final of the 2018-19 CAF Confederation Cup.
Laba’s debut season at Hazza bin Zayed Stadium was cut short after the UAE Pro League season was abandoned due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but he had already shown what he is capable of with 18 goals in his first 19 UAE Pro League appearances, including a memorable performance that saw him score four and assist one in an impressive 7-1 win for Al Ain over Fujairah SC.
Al Ain face a difficult task in the remaining four group stage matches in the 2020 AFC Champions League, having failed to collect a single point in their previous two games, yet if Laba can bring his domestic form to the continental front, the 2002-03 continental champions could well advance to the next round.
Baghdad Bounedjah (Al Sadd SC)
One of the most prominent forwards in the continent over the past few seasons, Bounedjah has an extraordinary goal contribution record for the 2011 AFC Champions League winners, having registered 113 goals and 31 assists in 102 games.
A semi-finalist with Al Sadd in the past two editions of the competition, his best return came in 2018 when he scored 13 goals in the run to the semi-final stage, being crowned the 2018 AFC Champions League top scorer.
While he is yet to break his duck in the 2020 AFC Champions League, Bounedjah did contribute two assists in the 3-0 win over Sepahan, and with the addition of Santi Cazorla to the already impressive Al Sadd midfield behind him, the 28-year-old may yet replicate his 2018 scoring exploits in the upcoming matches.
Cheick Diabate (Esteghlal FC)
Esteghlal FC’s Malian striker has been in a hot vein of form for the club he joined at the start of the 2019-20 season from UAE side Emirates FC. While he has yet to feature in the AFC Champions League group stage, he is tipped for a starring role in the run in, having scored three goals in two qualifying games.
One of Diabate’s best performances in an Esteghlal shirt came against Shahin Bushehr, in a 4-1 thrashing late last month that saw him get a brace. With 15 goals in 21 league matches, the 32-year-old finished the Iran Pro League season as top scorer.
Igor Sergeev (Pakhtakor FC)
Pakhtakor’s Sergeev has 10 goals in 13 games to his name in the Uzbek League this season, and two in two in the AFC Champions League, both coming the convincing 3-0 defeat of IR Iran’s Shahr Khodro FC.
The first goal came as he pounced on a low cross from close range, with the second coming in a similar manner albeit from a through ball from teammate Dostonbek Khamdamov. With the team seemingly on course for a place in the Round of 16, expect Sergeev to contribute more.
A veteran of the AFC Champions League, Sergeev is yet to feature in the knockout stages of the competition, despite a healthy record of 12 goals in 26 games while his most prolific campaign in the competition came in 2016 when he scored five goals.
With a festival of games kicking off in Doha on Monday, fans across the continent will be looking for their front men to deliver the goals that can propel their sides to AFC Champions League glory.
Who is your favourite to emerge top scorer? Poll ends at 16:00 (UTC +8 on September 14).
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