Cristiano Ronaldo and his Al Nassr colleagues arrived at a hotel in Tehran on Monday, and hundreds of fans flocked there in the hopes of catching a sight of the Portuguese superstar before the first group stage Asian Champions League match between a Saudi team and Iran since 2016.
Swarming the Espians Palace Hotel and chanting “Ronaldo, Ronaldo,” fans overpowered the police and filled the lobby and hallways. Kids wore Ronaldo-branded Al-Nassr and Portugal jerseys.
Later tonight in Tehran, Al Nassr will take on Persepolis. The rematch will take place on November 27 in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.
Only recently, with the resumption of diplomatic ties and the blessing of the AFC, have games between the two countries become feasible.
The last time Saudi and Iranian teams competed against one another in a group stage or knockout round of the Asian Champions League was in 2015. Games have previously been played on neutral ground, but relations have recently warmed enough to allow this to change.
Several images were published by Al-Nassr showing Ronaldo being presented with an expensive Iranian carpet by fans of the Persepolis football club.
“Welcome to Iran, Mr. Cristiano Ronaldo. The lovers of Persepolis wrote to express their gratitude and enclosed a unique hand-woven artwork created by Iranian artists to remember your visit to Iran.
Ronaldo helps Al Nassr to historic Asia Cup win in Iran
The Saudi Arabian team, led by their captain, won their first three points in Group E thanks to the five-time Ballon d’Or winner and five-time UEFA Champions League champion.
The Asian Football Confederation (AFC) imposed a ban on Persepolis fans attending football matches dating back to 2021, hence the Azadi Stadium match in Tehran was played without spectators.
That undoubtedly aided Nassr, as they scored both goals—an own goal by Danial Esmaeilifar and a terrific effort by defender Mohammed Qassem—in the second half to defeat the two-time runners-up.
After the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) announced a “ground-breаking agreement” between the federations of Iran and Saudi Arabia earlier this month, it was the first time a Saudi club had played in Iran since 2016.
Since diplomatic connections between Iran and Saudi Arabia were cut seven years ago, Asian Champions League matches have been held in neutral venues.
The 38-year-old Ronaldo played a key role throughout and came close to scoring twice in the first half.
Ronaldo missed an early opportunity when his thunderous close-range header was saved by Persepolis goalkeeper Alireza Beiranvand.
At the start of the second half, Nassr’s hopes were bolstered when Persepolis midfielder Milad Sarlak was shown a second yellow card for an apparent stamp on Ronaldo’s boot.
The touch was minimal and clearly inadvertent after reviewing the footage.
After an hour had passed, Nassr took the lead when Abdulrahman Ghareeb’s blocked shot deflected off Persepolis full-back Esmaeilifar and into the net. Ronaldo was instrumental in this move.
Nassr left back Mohammed Qassem made a break down the left and hammered a shot high beyond Beiranvand to double the visitors’ lead and seal the win for the visitors ten minutes later.
Win for IncheonIn the other game in the group, the Qatari powerhouses Al Duhail held Iran’s Istiklol to a scoreless draw at Dushanbe.
Group A champions Al Ain cruised to a 3-0 win against Pakhtakor in Tashkent, while Ahal of Turkmenistan overcame Al Fayha of Saudi Arabia 1-0 at home for just their second win of the tournament.
Group G’s South Korean debutants, Incheon United, debuted with a 4-2 victory over the Japanese champions, Yokohama F Marinos.
Therefore, Incheon share third place on three points with Shandong Taishan of the Chinese Suρer League, who had to figҺt hard for their 3-1 victory over Kaya-FC Iloilo of the Philippines in Manila.
Kawasaki Frontale of Japan defeated Johor Darul Ta’zim of Malaysia 1-0, and Ulsan Hyundai of South Korea defeated BG Pathum United of Thailand 3-1 at home to win Group I and advance to the 2020 Asian Champions League.
This year’s group stage, which began in March and will end in the middle of December and features a home-and-away format for the first time since early 2020, will see the top 10 teams from each pool and the top 6 teams in the second half of the standings advance to the knockout stages.
This starts in the month of February and ends in May after a two-part finale.