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Jeddah - Yasmine El Tohamy - There can’t have ever been a substitute bench in Saudi Arabian football with the collective talent of Cristiano Ronaldo, Seko Fofana, Anderson Talisca, Alex Telles and Abdulrahman Ghareeb but there they were sat on Friday as Al-Nassr drew 0-0 with Al-Shahab in their opening game of the King Salman Club Cup. The result means that both sides from Riyadh are still very much in this 16-team tournament, known in the past as the Arab Club Champions Cup, but the team in yellow will surely be more satisfied given the team that started the game in the south-western city of Abha.
Those big stars had been in action on Thursday against Inter Milan in a very creditable 1-1 that had taken place on the other side of the continent in the Japanese city of Osaka. The players had endured a lengthy journey back from the Land of the Morning Calm and arrived only on the day of this game. It was a testament to their desire to win that they even made the bench.
And Talisca and Telles, a recent signing from Manchester United, also made the pitch at the start of the second half. This was quite incredible given that they had been in action five time zones to the east little more than 24 hours previously. The Brazilian duo were unable to break the deadlock, though Talisca looked dangerous early in the second half, that had been firmly in place throughout the first 45 minutes. Al-Shabab, who finished two places below their neighbours in fourth in the league last season, had a point to prove given that they have had to sit back and watch their title rivals bring in some big names in the summer, but they struggled to break down the Nassr backline.
Then just after the hour came a certain five-time Ballon D’Or winner emerging from the sidelines with plenty of purpose. Ronaldo came close with 20 minutes remaining as his shot from outside the area took a deflection and almost wrong footed Kim Seung-gyu in the Al-Shabab goal.
Soon after, the Portuguese star had the ball in the net, finding a huge amount of space in the area to collect a pass and then turn to shoot home. The assistant’s flag was raised but it was soon clear that the call was closer than many realised as it turned out, after a VAR check, that those valuable Portuguese toes were the only body part that had strayed offside.
That seemed to add extra impetus to the game and soon after the dangerous Ever Banega, Hattan Bahebri and then substitute Turki Al-Ammar all forced saves from the impressive Nawaf Al-Aqidi who has had a great few games against Paris Saint-Germain, Inter and now Al-Shabab/ In a game that was short of clear chances, Al-Shabab were left to rue such misses.
The draw leaves both the Riyadh clubs two points behind Zamalek in Group C as the Egyptian giants, who take on Shabab next, thrashed Monastir of Tunisia 4-0 earlier in the day.
Al-Wahda and Raja Casablanca are both top of Group D. The teams from the United Arab Emirates and Morocco respectively picked up 2-1 wins. The Abu Dhabi club downed Al-Kuwait while the North Africans defeated Belouizdad of Algeria.
The top two teams of each of the four groups progress to the quarter-finals.
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