Cristiano Ronaldo was held scoreless in his first game in the Asian Champions League as his Al Nassr team beat Iranian club Persepolis 2-0 in Tehran on Tuesday.
The game was played inside an empty Azadi Stadium after Persepolis was ordered to play without fans for one game by the Asian Football Confederation after Indian club Goa complained about an offensive social media post made by the club in 2021.
That meant Iranian fans were deprived of the chance of seeing Ronaldo and the Saudi Arabian team’s other big-money signings like Sadio Mane and Marcelo Brozovic. But both goals came from Saudi Arabian players.
Abdulrahman Ghareeb opened the scoring on the hour-mark and defender Mohammed Qassem doubled the lead 12 minutes later, with his first goal for the Riyadh club. Ronaldo, who tops the scoring chart in the Saudi Pro League, had a chance to score after 20 minutes but headed straight at the Persepolis goalkeeper when unmarked at the edge of the six-yard box.
While the atmosphere in the stadium was quiet, Ronaldo’s presence had caused considerable local excitement on Monday. Hundreds of local fans stormed into Al Nassr’s hotel hoping to get a glimpse of the 38-year-old Portugal star as they chanted his name.
It was so chaotic that Al Nassr, which is still searching for a first Asian championship, was unable to train.
This was the first visit of a Saudi Arabian team to Iran since 2015, after diplomatic relations were restored in June in a deal brokered by China.
The victory takes Al Nassr to the top of Group E above Al-Duhail of Qatar and Tajikistan’s Istiklol, who drew 0-0. Only the 10 group winners and the six best runners-up in the 40-team tournament will progress to the second round.
Japanese champion Yokohama F. Marinos lost 4-2 at home to Incheon United in the South Korean team’s first Champions League game.
South Korean champion and two-time continental winner Ulsan Hyundai Horang-i defeated BG Pathum of Thailand 3-1. Japan’s Kawasaki Frontale won 1-0 at Malaysian powerhouse Johor Darul Tazim while China’s Shandong Taishan picked up a 3-1 win against Kaya of the Philippines.
On Monday, Al Hilal and its star forward Neymar were held to a 1-1 draw by Uzbekistani club Navbahor.
Saudi Arabian champion Al Ittihad was without star striker Karim Benzema but still defeated AGMK of Uzbekistan 3-0.