Ronaldo scores as Al Nassr ease into Asian Champions League quarters

Published February 23, 2024
RIYADH: Al Nassr’s Cristiano Ronaldo (C) heads the ball as Al Feiha’s goalkeeper Vladimir Stojkovic looks on during their Asian Champions League round-of-16 match at the Al-Awwal Park Stadium.—AFP
RIYADH: Al Nassr’s Cristiano Ronaldo (C) heads the ball as Al Feiha’s goalkeeper Vladimir Stojkovic looks on during their Asian Champions League round-of-16 match at the Al-Awwal Park Stadium.—AFP

RIYADH: Cristiano Ronaldo gui­ded Al Nassr into the quarter-finals of the Asian Cham­pions Lea­gue on Wednesday as the Saudi Arabian side defeated domestic rivals Al Fay­ha 2-0 to progress 3-0 on aggregate.

Nassr, who won last week’s first leg 1-0 thanks to a Ronaldo goal nine minutes from time, were the better side at Al Awwal Park and took the lead on 17 minutes through Portu­guese winger Otavio.

The former Porto star, who joined Nassr last summer, headed home from close range to score in his second successive game for the club.

His compatriot, Ronaldo, looked set to endure a frustrating night personally, with the Portugal captain having a number of penalty appeals turned down and, not long into the second half, a goal disallowed for offside.

Ronaldo, 39 earlier this month, was also booked in first-half stoppage time for a late challenge, with Nassr manager Luis Castro then given a yellow card for protesting the decision too vehemently.

However, the Nassr skipper would have the final say, when four minutes from time, he latched onto yet another Marcelo Brozovic through ball.

Fayha goalkeeper Vladimir Stojk­ovic really should have dealt with the situation but could only kick his attempted clearance off the onrushing Ronaldo. The ball fell invitingly for Ronaldo to tap into the empty net.

It marked the former Manchester United, Real Madrid and Juventus forward’s 10th goal in his past nine matches for Nassr. Ronaldo, a five-time winner of the UEFA Champions League, is competing for the first time in its Asian equivalent.

In the night’s other West Asian tie, 2003 champions Al Ain came from a goal behind at home to Nasaf Qarshi to win 2-1 in stoppage time and seal their spot in the quarter-finals.

The UAE side, the only Emirati club to lift the trophy, were a goal down five minutes into the second half at the Hazza bin Zayed Stadium, when they failed to deal with an inswinging corner, leaving Nasaf forward Bobur Abdikholikov to prod the ball across the six-yard box. Team-mate Akmal Mozgovoy finished at the far post.

With last week’s first leg in Qarshi ending goalless, the Uzbekistan side had stolen a march on reaching the last eight.

Yet Al Ain needed only four minutes to draw level. Togolese striker Kodjo Laba kept his eye on a looping loose ball in the Nasaf penalty area to acrobatically volley home.

The drama, though, was saved for the second minute of injury time. Nasaf goalkeeper Abduvohid Nematov somehow contrived to punch a cross from the left to Sofiane Rahimi. The Al Ain playmaker took one touch before drilling home his effort to take the home team through 2-1 on aggregate.

Al Ain and Nassr, the latter semi-finalists in their past two Champions League campaigns, will meet next month, across two legs, for a spot in the last four.

Published in Dawn, February 23rd, 2024

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