'Eyes of the football world' on Saudi Arabia as Cristiano Ronaldo makes Al Nassr debut

Portuguese star will play his first league game in Riyadh against Al Ettifaq on Sunday

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Cristiano Ronaldo’s official debut for Al Nassr will ensure “the eyes of the football world” will be on the Saudi Pro League and Mrsool Park on Sunday night, said the head of the country’s domestic top flight.

Ronaldo, 37, is set to make his highly anticipated bow for Nassr following last month’s landmark move, which is expected to earn the Portuguese star more than $200 million per year. Ronaldo, then a free agent, signed a two-and-a-half-year contract with the Riyadh club.

The five-time ballon d’Or winner was in action on the pitch on Thursday night, when he captained an all-star XI in an exhibition against Paris Saint-Germain in front of a reported 68,000 sell-out at King Fahd International Stadium. Ronaldo scored twice as the French champions ran out 5-4 winners in the capital.

However, the former Real Madrid, Manchester United and Juventus forward will contest his first competitive match on Sunday as Nassr, currently second in the table, host 10th-placed Al Ettifaq at Mrsool Park.

“The sell-out attendance on Thursday night and Cristiano Ronaldo’s much-awaited league debut on Sunday is indicative of the huge passion Saudi fans have for football,” Saudi Pro League chairman Adbulaziz Al Afaleq said: “We have no doubt the eyes of the football world will be firmly on the Saudi Pro League and Mrsool Park on Sunday night.”

Nassr, nine-time Saudi champions, are seeking to claim the title for the first time in four years, and will hope Ronaldo, the all-time leading goalscorer in men’s international football, can help propel their bid.

The capital club, who have played 13 league matches this season, can reclaim top spot in the standings with victory against Ettifaq. Jeddah side Al Ittihad sit at the summit, although they have played a game more.

Thursday’s friendly against Paris Saint-Germain represented Ronaldo’s first appearance since he departed the World Cup last month in tears following Portugal’s quarter-final exit to Morocco.

In a post on Instagram on Thursday, the 2016 European Championship winner said: "So happy to be back on the pitch, and on the score sheet!! And nice to see some old friends!"

The post included pictures of Ronaldo celebrating one of his two goals, with his arm around long-time rival Lionel Messi, and receiving an award for man of the match.

Meanwhile, on Saturday Nassr confirmed the departure of Cameroon international Vincent Aboubakar. The striker, scorer of the winner for his country against Brazil during the World Cup group stage, has joined Turkey’s Besiktas.

Updated: January 23, 2023, 12:11 PM