Dubai: Cristiano Ronaldo will make his competitive debut for his new club Al Nassr, with whom he signed a record deal worth over $207 million a year, on Sunday when they face Al Ittifaq in the Saudi Pro League clash at Mrsool Park.
Nine-time champions Al Nassr are second in the table but can regain top spot from Al Ittihad with a win as just one point currently separates the teams after 13 games of the 2022-23 season.
Off the pace
Al Ittifaq have won the Saudi championship twice in their history but are well off the pace this season taking just 16 points from 13 games and languishing in 10th in the table. They have not suffered back-to-back defeats since February 2022 but they have a good record against Al Nassr having lost just one of their last five showdowns. They could be a tough nut to crack as only the top four sides have shipped fewer than the visitors’ 12 goals in the league this season. They will make it hard for Ronaldo and co but Al Nassr are on a 12-match unbeaten run in all tournaments and should have more than enough quality to secure three points over their visitors.
They already boast the league’s best attacking record with 27 goals so far and with Ronaldo set to start they can expect to add to that tally.
The 37-year-old was on target twice during the friendly for the Riyadh All-Star XI against Paris Saint-Germain in the Riyadh Season Cup played at the King Fahd Stadium in front of just under 70,000 fans which the French Ligue 1 champions won 5-4. Anderson Talisca and Jang Hyun-soo also scored for the All-Star team and Ronaldo’s long-time adversary Lionel Messi scoring one of PSG’s five with Marquinhos, Sergio Ramos, Hugo Ekitike and Kylian Mbappe also on target for the Parisiens.
Friendly matters now take a backseat and the five-time Ballon d’Or winner will be aiming to get off to a flying start for his new club. He was hoping to make his debut for Rudi Garcia’s men against Al Shabab last weekend but missed out due to a two-match domestic ban imposed by the English FA for knocking a phone out of a fan’s hand when he played for Manchester United against Everton last April.
They could have done with the former Manchester United, Real Madrid and Juventus who as Al Nassr dropped two points in the 0-0 draw. However, their title destiny is still in their own hands as they have a game in hand.
Garcia’s squad is in good shape ahead of the game with left-back Ghislain Konan featuring against PSG after missing Al Nassr’s last two league games. But former Arsenal goalkeeper David Ospina is set for a six-week layoff after suffering an elbow injury against Al Shabab and Al Nassr may try to sign PSG’s Keylor Navas. In the meantime, Amin Al-Bukhari will deputise in between the posts.
The visitors will have Sweden international Robin Quaison spearheading their attack but the defensively solid Al Nassr now with one of the greatest footballers of all time up front should have no problems in securing three vital points to regain top spot.
Ronaldo had said that he wanted to take on a new challenge in Asia, having achieved tremendous success in Europe with various clubs. “I’m so proud to make this big decision in my life. In Europe, my work is done,” he said when Al Nassr unveiled him as their new player. “I won everything, I played in the most important clubs in Europe and now it’s a new challenge in Asia.”
All eyes will be on the Portuguese superstar tomorrow when the match kicks off at 9-30pm UAE time.