After the conclusion of the AFC Champions League 2022 group stage in May, the-AFC.com looks back on some of the standout displays from those involved in order to find out the stats leaders from the first round.
Last week we presented the stats for the group stage’s best goalkeepers, and now we shine the spotlight on the players who complete the rear-guard.
Aref Aghasi – Foolad FC
· 4 clean sheets (#1 by a defender)
· 30 possessions won in defensive third (#2 by a defender)
· 6 appearances, 2 goals conceded
An ever-present in Foolad’s watertight defence, 25-year-old centre-back Aref Aghasi was a key component in a side that reached the AFC Champions League knockout rounds for just the second time and first since 2014.
Just one team, Saudi Arabia’s Al Shabab, conceded fewer goals than Foolad, with Aghasi part of a backline that kept four clean sheets in six games as the Iranians advanced to the Round of 16 despite scoring just five goals.
Pedro Henrique – Lion City Sailors
· 32 possessions won in defensive third (#1 by a defender)
· 2 goals (#2 by a defender)
· 80% tackle success rate
While newcomers Lion City Sailors ultimately missed out on a place in the knockout rounds, there were some memorable moments for the Singaporeans, most notably a 3-0 victory over Korea Republic’s Daegu FC.
And it was centre-back Pedro Henrique that put the icing on the cake, heading home his side’s third, before he also was on the scoresheet in a 3-2 victory over China’s Shandong Taishan as the Brazilian enjoyed an AFC Champions League debut to remember.
Husniddin Aliqulov – FC Nasaf
· 31 aerial duels won (#1 for a defender)
· 39 duels won (#2 for a defender)
· 100% tackle success rate
Part of the FC Nasaf side that reached the AFC Cup™ final in 2021, Husniddin Aliqulov excelled on his step-up to Asia’s premier club competition as he was an ever-present in a side that reached the knockout rounds for the first time in their history.
The centre-back, who played every minute of every game, ranked highly on both duels and aerial duels won and won every tackle that he went in for, while there was also a pair of clean sheets for a team that conceded fewer than a goal a game.
Ahmed Yasser – Al Rayyan SC
· 11 blocks (#1 for a defender)
· 16 interceptions (joint #2 for a defender)
· 26 possessions won in the defensive third
When it comes to making it beyond the group stage for the first time, however, few sides have had it tougher than Qatar’s Al Rayyan but, after 10 failed attempts, they finally made it to the last 16, with two wins and two clean sheets in their final two games key.
No stranger to the AFC Champions League, central defender Ahmed Yasser excelled in the Al Rayyan backline, continually thwarting the opposition attack as shutouts against both FC Istiklol and, even more impressively, defending champions Al Hilal, helped see the Qatari side through.
La’Vere Corbin-Ong – Johor Darul Ta’zim
· 3 assists (#1 for a defender)
· 26 duels won
· 83% tackle success rate
It was a magical group stage for Malaysian powerhouse Johor Darul Ta’zim in front of their home fans as they delivered a number of performances to remember, most notably in twice seeing off 2020 champions Ulsan Hyundai.
A key figure both at the back and surging down the left flank was La’Vere Corbin Ong, who created more goals than any other defender in the group stage as his high-energy performances helped his team top a group that also included J1 League champions Kawasaki Frontale.
Irfan Fandi – BG Pathum United
· 4 appearances, 3 clean sheets (joint #2 for a defender)
· 15 interceptions (joint #3 for a defender)
· 100% tackle success rate
Son of one of Singapore’s most famous footballers, Irfan Fandi, unlike his father Fandi Ahmad, is more focused on preventing goals, rather than scoring them – and it’s a role the 24-year-old centre-back performed to a high standard during the group stage.
In three of his four appearances, BG Pathum United kept a clean sheet while in the other tie against Melbourne City just a single goal was conceded. Irfan’s positional and anticipatory skills also put him in good stead with a high number of interceptions, while he boasted a flawless tackle success rate.
Danial Esmaeilifar – Sepahan
· 41 duels won (#1 for a defender)
· 2 assists (joint #2 for a defender)
· 19 possessions won in defensive third
That Sepahan conceded 12 times in their six Group D outings and failed to progress to the Round of 16 should take nothing away from a fine individual campaign from their 29-year-old right-back Danial Esmaeilifar, whose performances secured a summer move to Tehran giants Persepolis.
Esmaeilifar not only topped our list in terms of duels won, but also proved an asset at the other end of the field registering two assists, a total only Corbin-Ong bettered. The Iranian will be hoping he can maintain this form for his new side and get into the reckoning for this year’s FIFA World Cup.
Hwang Jae-won – Daegu FC
· 5 games played, 3 clean sheets
· 31 duels won, 1 assist
· 100% tackle success rate
Despite still being a teenager, 19-year-old Hwang Jae-won has found himself a near ever-present for FC Daegu this season, both at home and on the continent, where has made the right-back slot his own.
Proving tigerish in the tackle and doughty in duels during the group stage, Hwang has also been happy to push forward to support the Daegu attack, supplying an assist in their opener against Shandong Taishan when Lee Keun-ho converted his cross.