On Tuesday evening, the unfolding drama held the gaze of football enthusiasts for over 40 minutes. Cristiano Ronaldo’s Al Nassr seemed poised to bow out of the AFC Champions League at the play-off stage, trailing Dubai’s Shabab Al Ahli 2-1. The tension filled the air as a crowd of 20,000 gathered at Al Awwal Park, the home ground of Al Nassr.
The crazy game in the AFC Champions League was made by Cr7 and his team
The potential consequences of such an elimination would have been seismic. The prestigious Asian club competition had never witnessed a player of Ronaldo’s caliber. While noteworthy figures like Andres Iniesta of Japan’s Vissel Kobe and various big names in Chinese clubs had left their mark, none matched the influence and popularity of the five-time Ballon d’Or awardee and the most followed personality on Instagram.
The influence and popularity of the five-time Ballon d’Or awardee
For Al Nassr, missing out on the Champions League for a second consecutive year would have dealt a significant blow. Their investments not only encompassed Ronaldo but also talents like Sadio Mane and Marcelo Brozovic, making it a pivotal moment for the club.
On a broader scale, for Saudi football—currently reigning atop the AFC domestic competitions rankings—falling short of securing the maximum allotted four teams in the group stage would have been a source of embarrassment. The nation’s substantial investments aimed at elevating their league to a top 10 global ranking would have faced a setback.
Ronaldo is truly Al Nassr’s savior
Collective sighs of relief echoed through various corners when substitute Ayman Yahya turned the tide. His late-game contributions assisted Sultan Al Ghannam and Anderson Talisca in finding the net. Ronaldo’s involvement didn’t go unnoticed either, as he set up Brozovic for the fourth goal. The astonishing turnaround, encompassing a mere 10 minutes, secured Al Nassr’s position in the group stage alongside fellow Saudi clubs Al Hilal, Al Ittihad, and Al Fayha.
This edition of the AFC Champions League, the last before reverting to a three-tier structure, is poised to showcase not only Ronaldo but also luminaries like Neymar and Karim Benzema, adding to the star power of the Saudi Pro League. Although the star-studded Al Ahli could have heightened the competition’s allure, debutants Al Fayha, another marvel led by Serbian coach Vuk Rasovic, complete the Saudi representation.
Together they could create fierce competition
With its substantial summer signings outshining those of many combined Asian leagues, the Saudi Pro League stands poised to reinforce its recent dominance on the continental club football scene. The 2021 AFC Champions League marked a zenith in this dominance, with Riyadh rivals Al Hilal and Al Nassr locking horns in the semifinals. This is the furthest two teams from the same region can progress due to the competition’s East-West separation structure.
Al Hilal is a crucial driving force in Saudi’s football
Al Hilal stands as a crucial driving force behind Saudi’s football hegemony. Their consistent appearances in finals, securing titles in 2014, 2017, 2019, 2021, and 2022, along with prior successes in 1991 and 2000, have solidified their legacy. Al Ittihad’s back-to-back triumphs in 2004 and 2005, plus a 2009 final, contribute to this Saudi strength. Notably, Al Ahli’s presence as a finalist in 2012 further underscores their influence.
Presently, overcoming Saudi clubs poses an immense challenge, as evidenced by Qatar’s Al Duhail’s resounding defeat by Al Hilal with a staggering 7-0 scoreline in the previous term. Qatar’s football landscape has experienced a post-World Cup lull, while the UAE’s Pro League has slipped from its peak, surrounded by leagues like the struggling Chinese Super League and the financially constrained Iranian Pro League.
The European players are marking the genuine impact and legacy of Saudi’s football revolution in Asia
Anticipation mounts for Thursday’s draw at the AFC House in Kuala Lumpur. While securing the championship might seem distant, the prospect of witnessing the likes of Ronaldo, Neymar, and Benzema on home turfs resonates deeply with Asian fans. Places like Dushanbe, Isfahan, and Qarshi rarely see names of such magnitude, marking the genuine impact and legacy of Saudi’s football revolution in Asia.