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Ronaldo, Al Nassr Down Persepolis 2-0 in Asia Cup

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Ronaldo, Al Nassr Down Persepolis 2-0 in Asia Cup

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Cristiano Ronaldo had a successful first game in the Asian Champions League, aiding Al Nassr in their 2-0 win over a 10-player Persepolis team in Iran on Tuesday evening. The five-time Ballon d’Or recipient, who boasts five UEFA Champions League championships, led the Saudi Arabian team to an initial three-point victory in Group E as their captain.

The game took place at the Azadi Stadium in Tehran, but it happened in an empty stadium because the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) enforced a one-game ban on Persepolis fans, which dated back to 2021.

This benefited Nassr significantly, as they scored both goals in the second half against Persepolis, who had been runners-up twice before. The goals came from a Danial Esmaeilifar own goal and a great strike by defender Mohammed Qassem.

This was the first instance of a Saudi club playing in Iran since 2016. This followed the AFC’s recent announcement of a “ground-breaking agreement” between the two countries’ football federations.

Iran and Saudi Arabia ended diplomatic relations seven years ago, leading to Asian Champions League matches being held at neutral venues.


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Throughout the game, the 38-year-old Ronaldo was actively engaged and had two near-misses in the first half. His first opportunity, a strong header from close range, was saved by Persepolis goalkeeper Alireza Beiranvand, leaving Ronaldo frustrated as the ball hit the post.

At the start of the second half, Nassr’s chances improved significantly when Persepolis midfielder Milad Sarlak received a second yellow card, this time for what seemed to be an accidental step on Ronaldo’s boot. Upon reviewing the incident, it became evident that the contact was minimal and unintentional.

Ronaldo played a crucial part in Nassr’s first goal a little over an hour into the game. The Portuguese star initiated the play that resulted in Abdulrahman Ghareeb’s shot being blocked and then deflecting off Persepolis full-back Esmaeilifar into the net.

Ten minutes later, Nassr’s left-back Mohammed Qassem made a strong run down the left side and blasted a high shot past Beiranvand, extending the visitors’ lead and sealing the victory.

With this win, Al Nassr now sits at the top of Group E, ahead of Qatar’s Al-Duhail and Tajikistan’s Istiklol, who played to a 0-0 draw. It’s important to note that only the 10 group winners and the six best runners-up from the 40-team tournament will advance to the second round.

Elsewhere

In the other Group E game, Iran’s Istiklol and Qatari team Al Duhail played to a goalless draw in Dushanbe. In Group A, Al Ain, who won in 2003, impressively beat Pakhtakor 3-0 in Tashkent, while Turkmenistan’s Ahal secured a 1-0 win at home against Saudi opponents Al Fayha, marking their second win in the competition.

In East Asia, South Korea’s Incheon United started their Group G campaign with a 4-2 win over J.League champions Yokohama F Marinos in Japan. In the same group, Chinese Super League’s Shandong Taishan had to work for their 3-1 victory over Kaya-FC Iloilo from the Philippines in Manila. In Group I, South Korean champions Ulsan Hyundai, who won the Asian Champions League in 2020, won 3-1 at home against Thailand’s BG Pathum United, while Japan’s Kawasaki Frontale secured a 1-0 victory against hosts Johor Darul Ta’zim in Malaysia.

The group stage, which returned to a home-and-away format for the first time since early 2020, continues until mid-December, with the top 10 group winners and the six best second-placed teams moving on to the knockout rounds, starting in February, with the final taking place across two legs in May.


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