It is no secret that Brazilian marksmen have been dominant in the AFC Champions League, with players from the South American nation topping the tournament scoring chart in six of the past 11 editions. But their presence was particularly strongly felt in this year's campaign courtesy of Muriqui's record-breaking tally.
The Guangzhou Evergrande forward stood out throughout their title-winning run, striking 13 times to help his side to a maiden continental triumph. This prolific form saw him not only dominate this year's top scorer race but also eclipse the tournament’s previous top scorers, including compatriot Ricardo Oliveira, who had set a new competition record with 12 goals just the year before. Unsurprisingly, Muriqui ended his Champions League campaign having bagged both the Golden Boot and Most Valuable Player awards.
"This season was special for me as we won the Asian championship," the 27-year-old told FIFA.com. “Having won the domestic league and reached the last eight in last year's Champions League, we started out this year aiming at a new breakthrough in the Asian campaign. And this goal was realised."
An impeccable import
Muriqui himself proved a constant menace to opposition defences throughout the campaign. The Brazilian showed he is capable of scoring freely against even the strongest Asian opponents and, no matter how closely he was marked, he always found a way to showcase his pace and clinical finishing.
"He’s among the best foreign players in Asia," was the tribute paid by Marcello Lippi, who guided Guangzhou to two successive league titles as well as this year's Asian success.
Muriqui started his career with Madureira in 2004 and within four years had earned national recognition, with a call-up to Brazil’s U-20 team. That same year he move to Desportivo Brasil, and went on to play on loan with a series of local giants including Atletico Mineiro, the current South American champions.
Hailed as one of the most promising stars in Brazilian league, Muriqui emerged as a sought-after transfer target. But while many of his peers tread the familiar path to Europe, Muriqui surprised even his own supporters by heading to Asia and joining Guangzhou - then playing in China's second division.
Despite these doubts, the player made an immediate impact with his new club, racking up 13 goals in 14 appearances in his debut season as Guangzhou earned promotion to the top flight. The next season saw him prove equally unstoppable, notching up another 16 goals and collecting the top scorer and player of the year awards as his side clinched the league title.
"I have never regretted coming to China," Muriqui continued, reflecting on his past four years, "I have accomplished a lot with Guangzhou and have won one honour after another. The level of Chinese Super League is not low and I have continued to make progress here. We have played in two Champions Leagues and the Asian competitions have provided us with opportunities of playing against strong clubs from Japan, Korea (Republic) and West Asia.”
Their Asian triumph secured Guangzhou's first-ever appearance in the FIFA Club World Cup and, naturally, Muriqui has set his sights on kaking an impact. Guangzhou have been pitted against African champions Al Ahly in their opening fixture and, should they prevail, their next challenge will come in the shape of the mighty Bayern Munich.
"These are world-class teams but we will take our game to them," said Muriqui. "The first game (against Al Ahly) will be a hard test and we should strive to win. We represent China and Asia, so we will spare nothing to get a good result."
The Brazilian’s faith in his team is not unfounded, given Guangzhou's enviable foreign line-up. Partnering him up front is on-song compatriot Elkeson, while Argentinian Dario Conca is adept both at creating and scoring goals. The team also boasts as many as nine Chinese internationals, spearheaded by captain Zheng Zhi.
"We are a fine-tuned team," concluded Muriqui, who is among the nominees for this year’s AFC Foreign Player awards alongside Conca and FC Seoul’s Dejan Damjanovic. "Both our home-grown players and foreign players are of good quality and they complement each other very well. We are strong as a group and are campaign-hardened. The Club World Cup is a new challenge for us but we are looking forward to it."