Al Nasr qualify for ACL final three years after missing play-offs
Three second-half goals give them a 4-2 win over Al Ahli in the UAE

메이저놀이터 Cristiano Ronaldo (Al Nasr) on his Asian Champions League debut. AFP Yonhap
European Champions League (UCL) sensation Cristiano Ronaldo (Al Nasr) scored a furious first goal on his Asian Champions League (ACL) debut.

Ronaldo’s Al Nasr (Saudi Arabia) made their first ACL appearance in three years with a 4-2 victory over Shabab Al Ahli (United Arab Emirates) in the ACL play-offs for the 2023-24 season at King Saud University Stadium in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, on Wednesday (23 June).

Al Nasr took the lead in the 11th minute through Andersson Talisca’s header from Marcelo Brozovic’s corner, but were pegged back by Yahya Al Ghassani in the 18th minute and again in the first minute of the second half. Al Nasr were unable to find the back of the net and were dragged into the dying minutes of the second half. However, in the 43rd minute, defender Sultan Al Ghannam headed home Ayman Yahya’s cross to dramatically draw the game level at 2-2.

With a breath of fresh air, Al Nasr dominated the second half of extra time. In the 50th minute, Talisca turned Yahya’s cross into a trigger-happy header to restore parity, and two minutes later, Brozovic drove a wedge into the game with a left-footed shot into the corner of the net from the penalty spot after being played in by Ronaldo.

Ronaldo, playing up front alongside Sadio Mane and Talisca, was not having a good day. In the eighth minute, he was brought down in the penalty box while surrounded by two defenders, but the whistle blew. In the 45th minute, his right-footed bicycle kick from the edge of the box hit a defender in the arm. Ronaldo protested to the referee, but no penalty was awarded and the decision was not overturned as this was a play-off game with no video assistant referee (VAR). Ronaldo was also angry in first-half stoppage time when he went down in a collision with a defender after breaking down the side of the box, but again no penalty was awarded and he walked off the field at half-time.

Ronaldo was all smiles after the dramatic win. “It was a difficult game, but the important thing is that we qualified for the ACL,” Ronaldo said on social media after the match. You always have to believe until the end. You can never give up,” he wrote.

The ACL, which will be played as the Chinese New Year from this season, will begin with the group stage on 18 November and end on 13 December. The final, featuring the last team from West Asia and East Asia, will be played home and away next May. The group stage draw will be made on the 24th.

Meanwhile, in the K League, four teams – Ulsan Hyundai, Jeonbuk Hyundai, Pohang Steelers and play-off favourites Incheon United – will be looking to win the title.

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