Cristiano Ronaldo taunted with chants of 'Messi!' as Al Nassr lose to arch-rivals Al Hilal

The Portuguese endured a miserable evening at King Fahd International Stadium as two Odion Ighalo penalties put another dent in Al Nassr's Saudi Pro League title hopes

Nassr's Portuguese forward Cristiano Ronaldo looks on during the Saudi Pro League football match between Al-Hilal and Al-Nassr at the Prince Faisal Bin Fahd stadium in the capital Riyadh on April 18, 2023.  (Photo by Fayez Nureldine  /  AFP)
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Cristiano Ronaldo’s hopes of lifting a first Saudi Pro League title with Al Nassr were dealt a huge blow on Tuesday night, when his side lost 2-0 against arch-rivals Al Hilal in Riyadh.

A penalty in either half from another former Manchester United forward Odion Ighalo sealed victory for the hosts at King Fahd International Stadium, while Ronaldo endured a miserable evening all round.

The Portuguese star, recruited in December as reportedly the most lucrative signing in football history, had a goal ruled out late on for a marginal offside, before seeing the award of a penalty overturned.

Ronaldo, who has 11 goals in 11 league appearances for Nassr, was taunted with chants of “Messi!” from Hilal fans as he left the pitch at full time.

The result means Nassr stay three points behind leaders Al Ittihad in second, but have now played a game more. Nassr, who are seeking a 10th top-flight crown and first in four years, have six league matches remaining.

The Riyadh side had come into Tuesday’s derby on the back of last week’s decision to part company with manager Rudi Garcia, who officially left the club “by mutual agreement”. Croatian Dinko Jelicic, the Under-19 coach, was in charge for the short trip to Hilal.

However, there would be no new-manager bounce for Nassr, who were largely second best throughout. Hilal, the reigning domestic champions, made their intentions clear from the off, going close on seven minutes when Moussa Marega’s low shot was saved by Nawaf Al Aqidi. From the resultant corner, Aqidi repelled Marega’s close-range header, and Ighalo somehow contrived to place wide the rebound.

The Nigerian, though, made amends three minutes before half time, when he converted from the spot after his attempted overhead kick had deflected off Nassr defender Abdulelah Al Amri. The goal lifted Ighalo to 17 for the season, and 50 overall in the league since moving to Saudi Arabia in early 2021.

Nassr, meanwhile, had to wait until the 54th minute for their first major chance of note, when Anderson Taslica, the team’s top scorer this season, forced a fine save from Abdullah Al Mayouf. Moments later, Ronaldo was booked for hauling down Gustavo Cuellar while challenging for a high ball.

Soon after, Hilal made it two. Winger Michael slalomed into the Nassr penalty area but was tripped by substitute Jaloliddin Masharipov, with Ighalo once again sending Al Aqidi the wrong way from the spot. With an 18th league goal, Ighalo tops the division’s scoring charts.

On 75 minutes, Ronaldo controlled beautifully a long ball over the Hilal defence before sweeping home on the half volley. Yet VAR deemed his shoulder was inches beyond his marker and the goal was ruled out.

Eight minutes later, Ronaldo’s night to forget was complete, even if his free-kick appeared initially to strike Marega’s arm and a penalty was given. Michael Oliver, the English Premier League referee, was asked to check with VAR, where replays showed the ball had cannoned first off Hilal teammate Saud Abdulhamid. The decision to award a spot-kick was overturned.

There was still time for Hilal substitute Salem Al Dawsari to have a back-heel cleared off the Nassr goalline. It mattered little, as the title-holders secured a morale-boasting win to consolidate fourth place in the table.

Nassr are next in action on Monday, when they take on Al Wehda in the King’s Cup semi-final. Hilal contest the other last-four encounter the day before, against in-form Ittihad.

Updated: April 19, 2023, 3:06 AM