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Jeddah - Yasmine El Tohamy - RIYADH: Cristiano Ronaldo lit up the Asian Champions League on Tuesday with two spectacular goals and delicious assists as Al-Nassr defeated Al-Duhail 4-3 in a thrilling encounter.
It was compelling because of the excitement and quality on show in Riyadh, especially from the five-time Ballon D’or winner. It means also that Al-Nassr made it three out of three to stay three points clear of Iran’s Persepolis at the top of Group E and on course for the knockout stages. It was a close-run thing, however.
The home team were quick out of the blocks with Anderson Talisca cutting inside from the right in the third minute and firing a shot just over the bar. It set the tone for much of what was to follow as the Saudi Arabia team were quickly on top while the visitors were very much on the backfoot.
It was not a surprise at all then that Talisca found the back of the net after 25 minutes from a similar position but there was a piece of Ronaldo magic in the buildup.
Abdullah Al-Khaibari found the former Real Madrid star on the edge of the area who then, with his back to goal, produced a delightful backheel past Portuguese compatriot Ruben Semedo and rightwards along the 18-yard line for Talisca, who still had some work to do, to turn and then send a low shot back across the goalkeeper.
As the half went on, however, Al-Duhail started to ask questions and not long before the break Almoez Ali saw his shot saved by Nawaf Al-Aqidi, and then the prolific Michael Olunga saw a header go off-target.
On the stroke of halftime, Ronaldo almost recorded an even more outrageous assist. From a stationary position just outside the area, he scooped the ball over the defense onto Sadio Mane whose header went just wide.
Early in the second half, Al-Duhail showed their attacking threat as Philippe Coutinho hit the post but after 56 minutes the hosts extended their lead. Ronaldo almost got on the end of a cross from the right but Mane was there at the far post to fire home.
And then five minutes later, Ronaldo got his goal and it was a special one. He took possession from Sultan Al-Ghannam outside the right edge of the penalty area and then unleashed an unstoppable left foot shot that flew into the top right corner of the Duhail goal. It was 3-0.
The three points looked done and dusted but then it all started to go wrong. Within two minutes, Ismaeel Mohammed headed home to give last season’s semifinalists some hope. Then four minutes after that, a deflected shot from Almoez Ali beat Al-Aqidi once more and then Al-Nassr were faced with the prospect of throwing away two points.
With nine minutes remaining, however, Ronaldo intervened once more with another goal to remember. A floating cross from Al-Ghannam found the forward in space and he just waited in the left side of the area to volley a low shot across the goalkeeper. Not for the first time, fans chanted his name and their hero acknowledged those chants with a smile and a wave. Even watching FIFA boss Gianni Infantino looked impressed.
The points were still not secure, however. With five minutes remaining, Olunga made it 4-3 to ensure that the nerves returned for the remainder of the game.
This time, Al-Nassr hung on to maintain their perfect record in Asia but a lot of it is thanks to Cristiano Ronaldo.
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