12/01 22:29 CST Ronaldo walks off to chants of 'Messi! Messi!' as his team
loses 3-0 in Riyadh derby
Ronaldo walks off to chants of 'Messi! Messi!' as his team loses 3-0 in Riyadh
By JOHN DUERDEN
RIYADH, Saudi Arabia (AP) --- Cristiano Ronaldo walked off the field with the
gleeful chants of "Messi! Messi!" ringing in his ears from delighted Al-Hilal
fans who had just watched their Saudi Pro League team beat the Portugal
superstar's Al-Nassr 3-0 in the Riyadh Derby on Friday.
The five-time Ballon d'Or winner may have finished on the losing team ---
Aleksandar Mitrovic scored twice after fellow Serbian Sergej Milinkovic-Savic
opened Al-Hilal --- but Ronaldo still remains the focus of attention in Saudi
Arabian soccer despite the taunts of opposition fans referencing his great
rival of nearly two decades.
As thousands of cars headed east out of downtown Riyadh to watch the top two
league teams and bitter local rivals face off at the King Fahd International
Stadium --- the last to be played at the arena for three years as it is to be
renovated to host games at the 2027 Asian Cup and anticipated 2034 World Cup
--- one Al-Nassr fan leaned out and shouted: "Are you here to see Cristiano?"
When Ronaldo warmed up, there were cheers from the several thousand away fans,
many of whom had No. 7 on their backs, and jeers from the masses of home
supporters. But even in those hostile sections, parents pointed out the
38-year-old soccer great to sons and daughters.
Saudi soccer 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 at Al-Nassr which has nine domestic
"He has lifted the level of the whole of football here," Riyadh resident Fahad
Al-Qahtani, 25, told The Associated Press. "Al-Hilal will still be champion
this season and we are still the biggest in Asia but Ronaldo has been amazing."
In the previous 14 games of the league season, Ronaldo had netted 15 goals to
top the scoring charts and help Al-Nassr move into second in the league behind
Al-Hilal. His teammates now include former Liverpool star Sadio Mane, Marcelo
Brozovic from Inter Milan and Alex Telles, who arrived from Manchester United.
"Cristiano is an example for everyone, an example that Al-Nassr are lucky to
have," Al-Nassr coach Luis Castro said. "He is an example of rigor, ambition
and discipline. Lots of people want to be like Cristiano Ronaldo but few 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 solitary goal, he shot a fierce volley high into the net but it was
marginally ruled out for offside. Soon after he rolled around the floor of the
Al-Hilal penalty area claiming that he had been elbowed. When Mitrovic scored
his first and Al-Hilal's second late in the game, Ronaldo insisted that he had
been fouled in the buildup.
Hilal has its own superstar but a less influential one right now as Neymar, who
signed from Paris Saint-Germain in August, suffered a serious injury while on
international duty with Brazil in October.
On social media, Neymar posted good luck messages to his teammates, such as
Mitrovic, midfielder Ruben Neves and defender Kalidou Koulibaly who all arrived
in the summer as highly rated English Premier League players. They joined
several Saudi Arabian internationals in the team such as Salem Al-Dawsari and
Saleh Al-Shehri, who scored against Lionel Messi's Argentina in Saudi Arabia's
famous 2-1 win at the 2022 World Cup.
The derby defeat on Friday left Al-Nassr seven points behind leader Al-Hilal
after 15 rounds. Ronaldo may have his work cut out to help his team win title
No. 10 but, given his form so far this season, he may still have the last laugh
with the Messi chants fading away.
Ronaldo's day was further soured with news from the U.S. that he has been hit
with a class-action lawsuit seeking at least $1 billion in damages for his role
in promoting cryptocurrency-related "non-fungible tokens," or NFTs, issued by
the beleaguered cryptocurrency exchange Binance.
AP soccer: https://apnews.com/hub/soccer