Cristiano Ronaldo in the UAE: Club World Cup glory and other fond memories

Portuguese star back in Emirates as he leads Al Nassr's challenge in Asian Champions League quarter-final clash with Al Ain

Al Nassr star Cristiano Ronaldo is in the UAE for the Asian Champions League quarter-final clash with Al Ain. Photo: Al Nassr
Powered by automated translation

As a regular visitor to the UAE, specifically Dubai, Cristiano Ronaldo will not be in too unfamiliar surroundings for Monday night’s Asian Champions League clash with Al Ain.

Granted, the Al Nassr captain is perhaps more used to the waters of Palm Jumeirah, where he has collected a multitude of Dubai Globe Soccer Awards, than the Garden City.

However, it is there at a sold-out Hazza bin Zayed Stadium that the five-time Ballon d’Or winner will contest the quarter-final first leg against record UAE champions Al Ain, before flying back to Riyadh for next week's return match.

Ronaldo, now 39, does already have fond memories of competing in the Emirates. In 2017, when representing Real Madrid, the Portuguese forward not only lifted the Fifa Club World Cup in Abu Dhabi but he played the starring role.

Having parachuted into the tournament at the semi-final stage, Madrid were a goal down to hosts Al Jazira at Zayed Sports City and staring straight at an headline-generating upset.

Yet, Ronaldo scored seven minutes into the second half, then set up Gareth Bale to notch an 81st-minute winner, and Madrid marched on.

It would be Ronaldo, of course, who then sealed the trophy. In the final against Brazil’s Gremio, again at Zayed Sports City, Madrid’s main man stepped up once more.

Not long after half-time, Ronaldo won a free-kick, dusted himself down, and thundered the set-piece through the Gremio wall and inside goalkeeper Marcelo Grohe’s post. It proved the only goal of the game.

Madrid clinched the title, and a bit of history, too. For the first time in the vaunted Spanish club’s glittering existence, they secured five trophies in a calendar year. Also, they became the first team to capture the Club World Cup back-to-back.

Ronaldo, who would eventually depart Madrid the following year as the club’s all-time leading scorer, had yet another major moment.

That it took place in the UAE, where he has been celebrated an unprecedented six times as Globe Soccer’s Best Men’s Player, will mean Ronaldo’s trip to Al Ain will hold a special place for him.

On his most recent stay in the Emirates, at the Globe Soccer Awards in January, Ronaldo took part in a panel discussion with Manchester City duo Kyle Walker and Ruben Dias, before taking home awards for Best Middle East Player, the Globe Soccer Maradona Award for most goals scored in a calendar year (54), and Fans’ Favourite Player of the Year.

With five goals to this point in his debut season in the Asian Champions League, he will surely be gunning for more on Thursday against Al Ain, to leave the UAE with reputation even further enhanced.

Updated: March 04, 2024, 11:49 AM