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regular-article-logo Thursday, 22 February 2024

Saudi Pro League: Cristiano Ronaldo faces 'Messi' jeers after loss

Saudi football has not been the same since the former Real Madrid and Manchester United forward completed a move last December

AP/PTI Riyadh Published 03.12.23, 09:23 AM
Cristiano Ronaldo.

Cristiano Ronaldo. File picture

Cristiano Ronaldo walked off the field with the chants of “Messi, Messi, Messi!” ringing in his ears from jubilant Al Hilal fans who had just watched their Saudi Pro League team beat the Portugal superstar’s Al Nassr 3-0 in the Riyadh Derby on Friday.

The five-time Ballon d’Or winner may have finished on the losing team — Aleksandar Mitrovic scored twice after fellow Serbian Sergej Milinkovic-Savic opened for Al-Hilal — but Ronaldo still remains the focus of attention in Saudi Arabian football despite the taunts of opposition fans referencing his great rival of nearly two decades.

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As thousands of cars headed east out of downtown Riyadh to watch the top two league teams and bitter local rivals face off at the King Fahd International Stadium — the last to be played at the arena for three years as it is to be renovated to host games at the 2027 Asian Cup and anticipated 2034 World Cup — one Al Nassr fan leaned out and shouted: “Are you here to see Cristiano?”

When Ronaldo warmed up, there were cheers from the several thousand away fans, many of whom had No.7 on their backs, and jeers from the masses of home supporters. But even in those hostile sections, parents pointed out the 38-year-old football great to sons and daughters.

Saudi football has not been the same since the former Real Madrid and Manchester United forward completed a move last December. Even fans of Al Hilal, the most successful club in Saudi Arabia and Asia, with 18 and four championships respectively, acknowledge what he has done at Al Nassr which has nine domestic titles.

In the previous 14 games of the league season, Ronaldo had netted 15 goals to top the scoring charts and help Al Nassr move into second in the league behind Al Hilal. His teammates now include former Liverpool star Sadio Mane, Marcelo Brozovic from Inter Milan and Alex Telles, who arrived from Manchester United.

“Cristiano is an example for everyone, an example that Al Nassr are lucky to have,” Al-Nassr coach Luis Castro said. “He is an example of rigour, ambition and discipline. Lots of people want to be like Cristiano Ronaldo but few want to work like Cristiano Ronaldo. If you want something you have to give everything to get it.”

Ronaldo tried everything on Friday. In the second half with Al Nassr trailing by a solitary goal, he shot a fierce volley high into the net but it was marginally ruled out for offside. Soon after he rolled around the floor of the Al Hilal penalty area claiming that he had been elbowed. When Mitrovic scored his first and Al Hilal’s second late in the game, Ronaldo insisted that he had been fouled in the buildup.

Hilal has its own superstar but a less influential one right now as Neymar, who signed from Paris Saint-Germain in August, suffered a serious injury while on international duty with Brazil in October.

The derby defeat on Friday left Al-Nassr seven points behind leader Al-Hilal after 15 rounds. Ronaldo may have his work cut out to help his team win title No.10 but, given his form so far this season, he may still have the last laugh with the Messi chants fading away.

Gatti winner takes Juve to top

Rome: Juventus moved to the top of the Italian league on Friday after a dramatic 2-1 win at Monza.

The Turin side led 1-0 for almost the entire game only to see Valentín Carboni equalize for Monza a minute into injury time.

However, the visitors reacted with aplomb and three minutes later Federico Gatti converted a cut-back from France midfielder Adrien Rabiot to give Juventus the lead again — and all three points.

The main action of the game until then came after 12 minutes. Monza goalkeeepr Michele Di Gregorio saved his team twice in quick succession, first from Dusan Vlahovic’s penalty and then again brilliantly from the rebound.

However, Rabiot rose to meet the resulting corner and power an unstoppable header into the net to give Juventus the lead. The Turin giants are now unbeaten in nine league games.

The result lifts Juventus into first place in Serie A. They are a point ahead of Inter Milan who play Napoli on Sunday.

AP/PTI

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