Cristiano Ronaldo’s first game in the Asian Champions League was a win. On Tuesday night in Iran, he helped Al Nassr beat 10-player Persepolis 2-0.
The five-time Ballon d’Or winner and five-time UEFA Champions League champion led Saudi Arabia to their first three points in Group E as their leader.
The match at Tehran’s Azadi Stadium was played without people because the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) confirmed a ban on Persepolis fans going back to 2021 that said they couldn’t watch a game.
This helped Nassr, who scored both of their goals in the second half against the two-time runner-ups. Danial Esmaeilifar scored an own goal, and defender Mohammed Qassem scored a great goal.
It was the first time a Saudi club had played in Iran since 2016. This month, the AFC announced a “ground-breaking agreement” between the federations of the two countries.
Since Iran and Saudi Arabia broke off formal ties seven years ago, Asian Champions League games have been played on neutral sites since then.
Ronaldo, who is 38, was very active the whole time. Twice in the first half, he came close to scoring.
His first chance, a strong shot from close range, went straight to Alireza Beiranvand, the goalie for Persepolis. Ronaldo hit the post in anger.
At the start of the second half, Nassr’s hopes went up a lot when Persepolis player Milad Sarlak was given a second yellow card. This time, it was for what looked like stamping on Ronaldo’s shoe.
Replays showed that it wasn’t on purpose and that there wasn’t much touch.
Ronaldo was a big part of Nassr’s first goal, which came just after the hour mark. The Portuguese started the play that led to Abdulrahman Ghareeb’s blocked shot going in off Persepolis fullback Esmaeilifar.
Ten minutes later, Nassr left-back Mohammed Qassem ran down the left side and blasted a shot high over Beiranvand to give the guests a two-goal lead and win the game.
In the other game in the group, Qatar’s Al Duhail held Iran’s Istiklol to a scoreless draw in Dushanbe.
In Group A, Al Ain, the winner in 2003, beat Pakhtakor by a score of 3-0 in Tashkent, while Turkmenistan’s Ahal beat Saudi Arabia’s Al Fayha by a score of 1-0 at home to get their second win of the tournament.
In Group G, South Korea’s Incheon United beat Japan’s J.League champions Yokohama F Marinos 4-2 in their first game. This was in East Asia.
So, Incheon are tied for third place with Shandong Taishan of the Chinese Super League. Shandong Taishan beat Kaya-FC Iloilo 3-1 in Manila, but they had to work for the win.
In Group I, South Korean champions Ulsan Hyundai beat Thailand’s BG Pathum United 3-1 at home, and Japan’s Kawasaki Frontale beat Malaysia’s Johor Darul Ta’zim 1-0 on their home turf.
This year, the group stage is back to a home-and-away schedule for the first time since early 2020. It will last until the middle of December, and the 10 pool winners and the six best second-place teams will move on to the final games.
That starts in February, and the last part takes place in two parts in May.