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Five key signings as AFC Champions League kicks off

The AFC Champions League group stage swings into action this week.

Matches kick off in the west of Asia on Monday and continue with eastern teams joining the fray on Tuesday and Wednesday.

We highlight five key signings as clubs go in search of Asian football glory.

– Dejan Damjanovic (Suwon Bluewings) –
The 36-year-old Montenegrin is brimming with AFC Champions League experience, having helped his former club FC Seoul reach the 2013 final. Damjanovic scored in both legs of the quarter-final and final that year as Seoul were pipped on away goals by Chinese giants Guangzhou Evergrande. Three times top scorer in the K-League, Damjanovic stunned FC Seoul fans by signing for near-neighbours Suwon last month and was on the scoresheet straight away in the 5-1 AFC Champions League play-off victory over Vietnam’s Thanh Hoa.

– Diego Forlan (Kitchee) -​
Hong Kong’s Kitchee landed a major coup when they brought in the 38-year-old former Manchester United and Uruguay international striker last month ahead of their maiden appearance in the AFC Champions League. Forlan was named 2010 FIFA World Cup player of the tournament as Uruguay finished fourth in South Africa. It will not be his first AFC Champions League group stage appearance, having scored twice for Cerezo Osaka in 2014. At 38, Forlan will play for a Kitchee team who become only the second from Hong Kong to reach the AFC Champions League after Eastern last year.

– Ahmed Khalil (Al Ain) –
Ahmed Khalil made waves in 2015 when he scored six goals for UAE side Al Ahli en route to the AFC Champions League final, overcoming his new club Al Ain in the last 16. He was also joint second-highest scorer as the UAE finished third in the Asian Cup that year, helping Khalil to earn the AFC Player of the Year award. Shaggy-haired UAE playmaker Omar Abdulrahman succeeded Khalil in 2016 to the accolade of best player in Asia and now the pair link up in what looks to be a formidable Al Ain attacking force.

– Adriano (Jeonbuk)​ –
Brazilian striker Adriano hit the headlines as he scored a competition joint-record 13 goals in the 2016 AFC Champions League with FC Seoul, kicking off with four in the opening-day win over Thailand’s Buriram United. After a year in China’s second tier with Shijiazhuang, the 30-year-old Adriano has returned to Korea with Jeonbuk. His new side are looking to repeat their AFC Champions League winning season of 2016 on their return to the competition, after being kicked out last season because of a bribery scandal involving club scouts and K-League referees.

– Wesley Sneijder (Al Gharafa)​ –
A product of the famed Ajax youth academy, former Real Madrid playmaker Sneijder was capped 133 times for the Netherlands, playing in the 2010 World Cup final. He also won the UEFA Champions League under Jose Mourinho at Inter Milan. Following a hugely successful four-year stint in Turkey with Galatasaray, the 33-year-old midfield maestro arrived at Al Gharafa last month and began in style, scoring a penalty in the 2-1 play-off victory over Uzbekistan’s Pakhtakor.


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