[Photo courtesy of Allfootball]
By Eugene Oyier
In a thrilling showdown on Saturday at the King Fahd Stadium, Cristiano Ronaldo, at 38 years of age, single-handedly propelled 10-man Al-Nassr to a momentous triumph in the Arab Club Champions Cup. The legendary footballer’s masterful performance included netting two crucial goals in a riveting 2-1 extra-time conquest over Saudi rivals Al-Hilal. This victory marks Al-Nassr’s inaugural title in the prestigious tournament.
Ronaldo’s journey with Al-Nassr had initially met with a trophy-less spell following his transfer. The team, finishing as runners-up in the Saudi Pro League, saw Ronaldo’s exceptional prowess come to the forefront, as he secured an astounding six goals throughout the tournament. This commendable feat not only bolstered his team’s performance but also granted him the distinction of being the tournament’s top scorer on the path to securing the championship.
The Arab Club Champions Cup, an esteemed competition featuring elite Arab clubs from across the region, encompassed teams from Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Iraq, Morocco, Tunisia, and Algeria.
The star-studded Al-Nassr contingent encountered numerous opportunities to break the deadlock during the first half. Close season acquisitions including Sadio Mane, Seko Fofana, and Marcelo Brozovic were all thwarted by the exceptional goalkeeping skills of Mohammed Alowais.
The intense matchup remained goalless until the second half, when Al-Hilal’s Malcom executed a precise cross, finding fellow Brazilian Michael, who exploited a free header to grant his side the lead. Exemplifying his jubilation, the 27-year-old player commemorated the goal with Ronaldo’s iconic celebration, sprinting to the corner flag and soaring into the air.
This pivotal moment seemed to ignite Ronaldo’s competitive fire. In the 74th minute, the Portuguese captain showcased his exceptional scoring ability, converting a low cross from right-back Sultan Al-Ghannam. This marked his fifth consecutive goal in as many games, showcasing his relentless consistency on the field.
However, the match wasn’t without its challenges for Al-Nassr. Defender Abdulelah Al-Amri received a red card in the second half, reducing the team to 10 players. Additionally, Nawaf Boushal, though on the bench, was ejected from the game due to an altercation with an official. Despite these obstacles, Al-Nassr’s resolute defense persevered, leading the game into extra time.
In the crucial first half of extra time, Ronaldo solidified his pivotal role in the victory. Exploiting a rebound off the crossbar, he capitalized on the goalkeeper’s position and headed the ball into the net, securing his second goal of the match and cementing Al-Nassr’s lead.
However, concern arose as Ronaldo was forced to leave the field due to an apparent injury following a collision during the second period of extra time. This development raises questions about his availability for Al-Nassr’s upcoming Saudi Pro League opener against AlEttifaq, scheduled just two days away.
Ronaldo’s exceptional performance in guiding Al-Nassr to their historic Arab Club Champions Cup triumph will undoubtedly be remembered as a testament to his enduring prowess and indomitable spirit on the football field.