Can Cristiano Ronaldo Lead Al-Nassr to Their First-Ever AFC Champions League Title?

As he approaches 39 years of age, Cristiano Ronaldo is plying his trade outside of Europe for the first time in his life, but he remains an unstoppable force in front of goal for Saudi club Al-Nassr. Having won four UEFA Champions League titles with Real Madrid and one with Manchester United, he’ll now be looking to lead Al-Nassr to their first-ever AFC Champions League title this season.


As per the worldwide well-known website Transfermarkt, Ronaldo has scored 726 goals and provided another 231 assists in 979 games of club football, and leads the goalscoring chart of international football with his country Portugal, netting 127 goals and giving 45 assists in 203 games with The Navigators. This is a total of 853 goals and 276 assists in 1182 games, and 1129 goal contributions in 96057 minutes, averaging 1 goal involvement per 85 minutes, which is a rate of more than 1G+A per games.


At 38 years of age, Cristiano Ronaldo does not seem to slow down, starring in the Saudi Professional League in this campaign scoring 11 goals already and delivering 6 assists in 11 games, and more precisely, 986 minutes of play, 1 G+A per 89 minutes, remaining close of his career average. Same with his national team, Cristiano Ronaldo has just led his homeland to qualify for the next European Championship, which is set to be held in Germany, this coming summer.


In the Euros qualifiers, Cristiano Ronaldo scored 9 goals and provided 1 assist in 7 games and featured in all games, bar the one against Luxembourg, as he was suspended for accumulating yellow cards. He looks to be back to playing his best football, and whilst this current version of him is obviously not the most entertaining, he might not participate a lot outside the box, or in wider areas, but he remains a clutch goal-scoring figure.


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This season, Cristiano Ronaldo looks to be more efficient than any other version of his since that 2016/17 campaign, which can allow the Al-Nassr lovers to hope for a first crown in their AFC Champions League history. Al-Nassr fell short in 1995, losing the final of the biggest club competition in the continent of Asia, losing the final against South Korean side Ilhwa Chunma (renamed to Seongnam Football Club now), 1-0. The Blue and Yellow have not reached any finals since, despite figuring on their ranks many notable players in the past decades.


The Barcelona Bulgarian legend Hristo Stoichkov, the former Brazil international Denilson, who was once the most expensive signing in the history of football after his transfer to Real Betis, the Nigerian Ahmed Musa, who scored a brace against Argentina in the 2018 World Cup, the Romanians Razvan Cosis and Ovidiu Petre, the Moroccan Abderrazak Hamdallah, who is one the top historical goalscorers in the continent, the Iraki legend Nashat Akram, the Saudi legend and club topscorer Majed Abdullah, who scored 359 goals in just 240 games for the club, those have all wore the first team shirt of Al-Nassr, still the club was not able to lift that long-awaited trophy.


Al-Nassr have been out of the picture in the continental tournament for long, but they got back to compete in the last few years. They reached the quarter-final in 2019, losing to Qatari giants Al-Sadd in the aggregate: 2-1 for Al-Nassr in Riyadh, and 3-1 for Al-Sadd in Doha. Al-Nassr have got back stronger the following year, making it to the semi-finals, but were knocked out by Iranian powerhouses Persepolis in the penalty shout-outs.


They remained in the picture in 2021, and repeated their semi-finals rank, but got out in the same stage, through city rivals Al-Hilal in the Riyadh Derby 2-1. In 2022, they have not even participated, but this season Al-Nassr look to be at their best, under the lead of their Portuguese gaffer Luis Castro, and blockbuster signings like Sadio Mané, Aymeric Laporte, Marcelo Brozovic, Otavio, Alex Telles and Seko Fofana.


Al-Nassr have recently matched their best winning streak of the decade, achieving victory in 10 straight games in all competitions. Al-Nassr have started the season by winning the Arab Club Champions Cup against rivals Al-Hilal in the final. And despite their poor start of the league season, conceding 2 losses on the spin in their first two games, they were able to get back to winning ways and climb in the SPL standings, reaching now the 3rd place.


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In the Saudi King’s Cup they have qualified to the round of 16, beating second-tier and Yelo League side Uhud 5-1, as they are set to play against Steven Gerrard’s Al-Ettifaq in the aforementioned stage. Most importantly, in the AFC Champions League, they were minutes away from not even making it to the group stage, as Sultan Al-Ghannam, Anderson Talisca and Marcelo Brozovic have scored a late equalizer, then winners after being down 2-1 against Emirati club Shabab Al-Ahli Dubai.


This comeback has made them stronger as they have gone to achieve a crucial and hard victory in their group opener against Persepolis in Iran, 2-0, thanks to from Abdulrahman Ghareeb and Mohammed Qassem. Al-Nassr got down again in the 2nd round against Tadjikistani side Istiqlol Duchanbé in the first half 0-1, but they ended the game 3-1. Al-Nassr now have collected full points out of the 2 AFC Champions League games, leading the Group E.


Al-Nassr have not had it any easy in their group as they will play next against Qatari giants Al-Duhail, which makes it widely regarded as the toughest group in the continental competition this season. After their victory in Iran, Al-Nassr look to have surpassed their biggest barrier of the group, even though the game was played behind closed doors.



What would make it tough for Al-Nassr, is that, if they have bolstered their squad in the latest transfer window, the fellow Saudi giants have done so as well, with Al-Hilal, and Al-Ittihad acquiring the services of Neymar, Karim Benzema, Kalidou Koulibaly, N’Golo Kanté, Fabinho, Aleksandar Mitrovic, Malcom, Sergej Milinkovic-Savic, Luiz Felipe, and others.


This would certainly won’t make it a 3-team race, as each club within the tournament would have its cards to play, but for now, Al-Hilal look to be the biggest threat for Cristiano Ronaldo and his teammates on their way to making AFC Champions League history.



Featured Image: @GabFoligno / Matthew Peters / Manchester United