Cristiano Ronaldo takes centre stage in Saudi Super Cup as Al Nassr face Al Hilal

Al Ittihad meet Al Wehda in the first of the two semi-finals in Abu Dhabi on Monday evening

Cristiano Ronaldo arrives for training at Mohamed bin Zayed Stadium in Abu Dhabi ahead of Al Nassr's Saudi Super Cup semi-final with Al Hilal. Reuters
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Cristiano Ronaldo will aim to carry his sensational form into Monday night's Saudi Super Cup semi-final where Al Nassr face record-breaking Al Hilal in Abu Dhabi.

Ronaldo arrived in the capital following back-to-back hat-tricks in the space of 72 hours, and the Portuguese superstar forward will be instrumental if Nassr are to end Hilal's remarkable world record run of 32 successive victories.

Ronaldo will also hope this visit to Abu Dhabi will be more successful than the last time, when Nassr suffered a defeat to Al Ain in the Asian Champions League quarter-final first leg – a result that helped the UAE champions secure overall victory to advance to the semi-finals at the expense of Nassr.

Before Nassr face Hilal at the Mohamed bin Zayed Stadium, Al Ittihad meet Al Wehda in the first Saudi Super Cup semi-final down the road at Al Nahyan Stadium.

In scoring his third hat-trick of the season last time out – in Saturday’s 5-1 victory over Al Tai – Ronaldo is well clear at the top of the Saudi Pro League goalscorer standings with 29, seven ahead of Hilal striker Aleksandar Mitrovic. However, Hilal, unbeaten after 27 matches, are still racing to the title and hold a 12-point lead.

It means it's all set up for a blockbuster clash between two giants of Saudi and Asian football, and Nassr manager Luis Castro is expecting a spectacle for the fans in attendance.

“I wish we can entertain the fans by presenting a spectacular game of football. I think that’s the aim of both teams. I hope it's a great semi-final which we really want to win,” Castro said at the pre-match media conference at Al Nahyan Stadium on Sunday.

“Obviously, it’s a tough match with star players on both sides. We hope to see our fans happy at the end of the game. The schedule is not ideal as we didn’t have much time to prepare but nevertheless, we have trained and prepared as best as we can. Obviously our goal is to win this cup.”

Hilal manager Jorge Jesus agreed with his rival and stated his team has lofty ambitions as the defending champions.

“There is nothing to hide between the two teams, and it’s going to be a pulsating game between these two traditional rivals,” Jesus said.

Al Nassr arrive in Abu Dhabi

“Luis and I know each other from our playing days and we are now coaches in two different camps. This match is going to be strong with big stars on both sides.

“We won the Super Cup defeating Al Ittihad in London. This silverware is just as important for us as the Asian Champions League. We have had a good run so far with 32 successive victories and hopefully we can take the momentum forward. It indeed is a proud record.”

The Saudi Super Cup is in its 10th year, with the Saudi Football Federation changing the competition format from last year's one-off game between the Saudi Pro League champions and the winner of the King’s Cup to the now four-team knockout format.

The four clubs that play are the Saudi Pro League champions and runners-up, and the King’s Cup winners and runners-up, meaning Ittihad and Al Nassr, who qualified via the league, and Hilal and Wehda who qualified via the cup.

Al Ittihad manager Marcello Gallardo is quietly confident of leading his side to the final despite defeats to Al Ahly and Al Taawoun in their last two games.

“Those games are behind us and we are looking forward for the game against Wehda. Obviously, we want to play in the final,” the Argentine manager said.

Wehda manager Georgios Donis said his side are coming from a “difficult period” plagued by injuries since January.

“The Saudi Super Cup is an important experience for me and the team. We have gone through a difficult stage but I have confidence in the players. We came to fight and reach the final. Hopefully, we can achieve that goal,” he said.

Updated: April 08, 2024, 4:29 AM