Cristiano Ronaldo gets his first taste of Asian competition on Tuesday as Al Nassr meets Shabab Al Ahli of Dubai in a Champions League preliminary round playoff with the rest of the continent wondering if big-spending Saudi Arabian clubs can be stopped.
Al Nassr finished second in its domestic league last season but since signing the five-time Ballon d’Or winner in December, has added more stars this summer. Marcelo Brozkovic, Sadio Mane, Alex Telles and Seko Fofana have arrived from Inter Milan, Bayern Munich, Manchester United and Lens respectively.
The club has lost its first two games of the new Saudi Professional League season and Shabab Al Ahli may be champion of the UAE but Al Nassr is still seen as a strong favourite to progress to the group stage, especially as the single elimination game will take place at its Riyadh home.
If Al Nassr defeats Shabab Al Ahli, it will give Saudi Arabia four teams in the group stage that starts in September and they will present formidable opposition for the rest of the continent’s contenders.
Al Hilal, which has a record four Asian titles, signed Brazilian superstar Neymar and Fulham striker Aleksander Mitrovic in the past week, with Al Ittihad adding Fifa Ballon d’Or holder Karim Benzama from Real Madrid as well as N’Golo Kante and Fabinho from Chelsea and Liverpool.