RIYADH, Saudi Arabia (AP) — Cristiano Ronaldo "Messi, Messi, Messi!" Walked out of the field with jubilant slogans. His ears were ringing with the sounds of jubilant Al-Hilal fans, who had recently watched their Saudi Pro League team beat Portuguese superstars Al-Nassr 3-0 in the Riyadh derby.
The five-time Ballon d'Or winner may have ended up on the losing side – Aleksandar Mitrovic scored twice after opening for fellow Serbian Sergej Milinkovic-Savic for Al-Hilal – but Ronaldo still remains the toast of Saudi Arabian football. Remaining the center of attention.
Thousands of cars were heading east from downtown Riyadh to watch the top two league teams and fierce local rivals clash at the King Fahd International Stadium – the last stadium it will play in for three years as it is to be renovated to host games. At the 2027 Asian Cup and the anticipated 2034 World Cup – an Al-Nassr fan came forward and shouted: "Are you here to see Cristiano?"
While Ronaldo was warming up, several thousand away fans, many of whom had the number 7 on their backs, cheered, as did the crowd of home supporters. But even in those hostile quarters, parents valued the 38-year-old football great for their sons and daughters.
Saudi football has not been the same since the former Real Madrid and Manchester United forward completed a move last December, Even fans of Al-Hilal, the most successful club in Saudi Arabia and Asia with 18 and four championships respectively, acknowledge what he has done to Al-Nassr with nine domestic titles.
"He has raised the level of the whole football here," Riyadh resident Fahd al-Qahtani, 25, told The Associated Press. "Al-Hilal will still be champions this season and we are still the biggest in Asia but Ronaldo has been amazing."
In the last 14 games of the league season, Ronaldo had scored 15 goals to top the scoring charts and help Al-Nassr reach second place in the league behind Al-Hilal. His teammates now include former Liverpool star Sadio Mane, Marcelo Brozovic from Inter Milan and Alex Telles from Manchester United.
Al-Nassr coach Luis Castro said, "Cristiano is an example for everyone, an example that Al-Nassr is lucky to have." “He is an example of toughness, ambition and discipline. Many people want to be like Cristiano Ronaldo but only a few people want to work like Cristiano Ronaldo. If you want something you have to give everything to get it.”
Ronaldo tried everything on Friday. In the second half, with Al-Nassr trailing by a goal, he fired a powerful volley into the net but it was narrowly ruled out for offside. Shortly thereafter he rolled on the floor of the Al-Hilal penalty area, claiming that he had been elbowed. When Mitrovic scored his first goal and Al-Hilal's second late in the game, Ronaldo insisted that he was fouled in the buildup.
Hilal has his own superstar but is currently less influential in the form of Neymar, who signed from Paris Saint-Germain in August. seriously injured While on international duty with Brazil in October.
On social media, Neymar posted congratulatory messages to his teammates, such as Mitrovic, midfielder Ruben Neves and defender Kalidou Koulibaly, who all arrived as highly-rated English Premier League players in the summer. He joined the team alongside several Saudi Arabia internationals such as Salem Al-Dawsari and Saleh Al-Shehri, who scored against Lionel Messi's Argentina. Saudi Arabia's famous 2-1 win In the 2022 World Cup.
The derby defeat on Friday left Al-Nassr seven points behind leaders Al-Hilal after 15 rounds. Ronaldo may have his work cut out for him in helping his team win title number 10, but given his form so far this season, he may still have to make it to the final as Messi's spells fade away. Might get a laugh.
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