Cristiano Ronaldo arrives in UAE for Al Nassr's ACL quarter-final clash with Al Ain

Portuguese star returns after one-match ban for disciplinary reasons

Al Nassr star Cristiano Ronaldo landed in the UAE for the Asian Champions League quarter-final clash with Al Ain. Photo: Al Nassr
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Cristiano Ronaldo has arrived in the UAE with his Al Nassr teammates, aiming to push the Saudi Pro League side closer to the Asian Champions League title.

Ronaldo returns from a one-match suspension and a fine for making what was deemed an offensive gesture at the end of his side’s 3-2 SPL win at Al Shabab. He is now tasked with leading the charge for Al Nassr in the ACL quarter-final clash with UAE side Al Ain on Monday.

The punishment meant that Ronaldo watched from the sidelines during Thursday’s league game as Al Nassr took the lead four times but ended with a 4-4 draw at home to bottom team Al Hazm. The result left the club in second in the league and nine points behind leaders Al Hilal.

“Ronaldo strengthens the team and ensures that the opponent respects you more but his absence had nothing to do with the result,” said Nassr coach Luis Castro. “The fact is that we are conceding too many goals and the problem is not organisational but due to individual mistakes.”

“The league result will not affect our game in the Asian Champions League as we will be fully focused on that.”

Ronaldo was instrumental in guiding Nassr to the quarter-final stage. The Portuguese star struck the second goal in Nassr’s 2-0 home victory against fellow Saudi side Al Fayha in the round of 16 clash.

Compatriot Otavio opened the scoring at Al Awwal Park on 17 minutes, with Ronaldo making the most of a goalkeeping mistake four minutes from time to secure the result.

Nassr, semi-finalists in their past two Champions League appearances, advanced 3-0 on aggregate. Ronaldo had scored the only goal in the first leg at Fayha as well.

The continental competition offers Nassr the best chance of silverware this season and the team made a short trip to take on Al Ain, winners in 2003, in the first leg of the quarter-final.

Al Ain booked their place in the quarter-finals following a dramatic stoppage-time win at home against Uzbekistan’s Nasaf Qarshi.

After the first leg ended goalless, Al Ain went 1-0 down at the beginning of the second half of their clash at the Hazza bin Zayed Stadium before striker Kodjo Laba levelled four minutes later.

The 2003 champions, the only Emirati club to lift the Champions League, grabbed victory two minutes into injury time when playmaker Sofiane Rahimi dispatched expertly inside the Nasaf penalty area.

The action does not stop there. Tuesday sees an all-Saudi Arabia clash as serial winners Al Hilal face Al Ittihad, champions in 2004 and 2005.

Brazilian star Neymar is still missing for Al Hilal while Al Ittihad are waiting to see if star striker Karim Benzema recovers from a muscle injury.

The two teams clashed in the league on Friday. Former Chelsea midfielder N’Golo Kante put Ittihad ahead but Al Hilal came back to win 3-1 to record a 25th straight win in all competitions.

“The players are playing with great confidence,” said Hilal coach Jorge Jesus. “This is a good thing because we are facing important matches in a short period, starting with the Asian Champions League and a tough game against Al Ittihad and we will have to be at our best.”

Updated: March 03, 2024, 5:47 PM