5-time Ballon d’Or winner Ronaldo, who has 5 UCL titles to his name, captained the Saudi side to an opening 3 points in Group E

Ronaldo plays key role in Al Nasser's historic victory in Iran.

DT || Shining BD

Published: 9/20/2023 5:01:24 AM

Tuesday night in Iran, Cristiano Ronaldo scored two goals to lead Al Nassr to a 2-0 victory over 10-man Persepolis in his Asian Champions League debut.


With five UEFA Champions League titles under his belt, the five-time Ballon d'Or winner led Saudi Arabia to an early three-point lead in Group E.

Since the Asian Football Confederation upheld a one-game ban for Persepolis supporters dating back to 2021, the game at Azadi Stadium in Tehran was played without spectators.

That clearly helped Al Nassr, who grabbed both goals in the second half against the two-time runners-up, through a Danial Esmaeilifar own goal and a fine strike by defender Mohammed Qassem.

It marked the first time a Saudi club played in Iran since 2016, after the AFC announced a “ground-breaking agreement” earlier this month between the two countries' federations. 

Iran and Saudi Arabia severed diplomatic ties seven years ago, meaning Asian Champions League matches had been since played at neutral grounds.

Ronaldo, 38, was heavily involved throughout, twice going close in the first half. 

His initial chance - a powerful, close-range header - was sent straight at Persepolis goalkeeper Alireza Beiranvand which left Ronaldo beating the post in frustration.

Al Nassr’s hopes grew considerably at the beginning of the second half, when Persepolis midfielder Milad Sarlak was given a second yellow card, this time for appearing to stamp on Ronaldo’s boot. 

Replays showed it was unintentional, the contact minimal.

Ronaldo played a key role in Al Nassr's opener just after the hour, the Portuguese instigating the move that led to Abdulrahman Ghareeb’s blocked shot cannoning off Persepolis full-back Esmaeilifar and nestling in the net.

Ten minutes later, Al Nassr left-back Mohammed Qassem broke down the left and thumped his shot high past Beiranvand to double the visitors’ advantage and secure the points.

In the group’s other match, Iran’s Istiklol were held to a goalless draw in Dushanbe by Qatari heavyweights Al Duhail.

In Group A, 2003 winners Al Ain secured an impressive 3-0 victory at Pakhtakor in Tashkent, while Turkmenistan side Ahal defeated Saudi opponents Al Fayha 1-0 at home to record only a second win in the competition.

In the East Asian side of the draw, South Korea's Incheon United opened their Group G account with a 4-2 win over J. League champions Yokohama F Marinos in Japan. 

As a result, Incheon sit on three points alongside Chinese Super League side Shandong Taishan, who were made to work for their 3-1 victory in Manila over Kaya-FC Iloilo of the Philippines.

In Group I, South Korean champions, and 2020 Asian Champions League winners, Ulsan Hyundai won at home over Thailand’s BG Pathum United 3-1, while Japan's Kawasaki Frontale saw off hosts Johor Darul Ta'zim 1-0 in Malaysia.

The group stage, which this year returned to a home-and-away format for the first time since early 2020, runs until mid-December, with the 10 pool winners and the six best second-placed teams advancing to the knockout rounds. 

That begins in February with the final taking place across two legs in May.

Shining BD