It was yet another goal-fest in the Saudi Pro League on Friday night as Al Nassr edged past rivals Al Ahli in a hugely entertaining clash at Al-Awwal Park. A brace each from Cristiano Ronaldo and Talisca secured a 4-3 victory that saw Al Nassr celebrate the Saudi National Day weekend in style and climb above their opponents on the points table on goal difference.
Here are three key talking points from an action-packed encounter in Riyadh.
Ronaldo rises to the occasion
He failed to find the net in Al Nassr’s AFC Champions League victory over Persepolis earlier this week, but with Cristiano Ronaldo, goals are never far away. While the match in Tehran was played behind closed doors with no fans, Al Nassr’s Al-Awwal Park was packed to the rafters on Friday, with the Portuguese superstar clearly relishing the occasion.
The pitch is Ronaldo’s stage and in front of his adoring supporters, he put on a memorable show that began with a goal within five minutes. Green flares were set off on the stands before kick-off, and it provided just the right kind of atmospheric backdrop as Ronaldo moved through the mist to put his side ahead with a smart left-footed strike. Amid the smoke, Ronaldo’s iconic ‘siuu’ celebration lit up the stadium.
His second strike of the night was another fine individual effort that came just as Al Ahli looked to be clawing their way back into the game at 3-2 – thanks to a Riyad Mahrez penalty. However, just two minutes after that spot-kick, Ronaldo turned smartly on the edge of the box to open up a yard of space before rifling another low left-footed effort past Al Ahli goalkeeper Edouard Mendy.
It helped Al Nassr seal all three points, with Ronaldo now three goals clear at the summit of the Saudi Pro League scoring charts. He has netted 23 times in 22 league outings since arriving at Al Nassr in January, averaging a goal every 86 minutes!
Ronaldo is maybe 38 years old, but the ex-Real Madrid and Manchester United star remains a player who always rises to the occasion.
“For the fans, it was an amazing match,” Ronaldo said afterwards. “We are happy, we are now at the top of the table. I still love football, even with my age. I still love to win, to score goals, but the most important is the team.”
Talisca the talisman
Before Ronaldo, there was Talisca. For 18 months prior to Ronaldo’s arrival, it was the Brazilian attacker whom Al Nassr fans turned to for moments of inspiration. Since his move from Chinese side Guangzhou Evergrande in 2021, Talisca has been a talisman for Al Nassr, scoring 20 league goals in each of his first two seasons.
He may now be an understudy to Ronaldo, but Talisca showed with his double against Al Ahli that he can still provide his side a creative spark when needed. The first goal demonstrated his physicality and athleticism as he powerfully headed home after Aymeric Laporte nodded it across the goalmouth.
In contrast, Talisca’s second strike was simply indicative of his raw talent. Picking up the ball on the right side of the Al Ahli penalty box, he cut inside onto his left-foot and shattered a thunderous effort past Mendy.
Talisca’s night could have been tarnished after he carelessly gave away a penalty after tripping Bassam al-Haryaii. However, the Brazilian will instead be remembered for the brilliance of his goal as Al Nassr held on for the win.
Al-Ahli back to where they belong
It sent shockwaves through Saudi football when Al Ahil were relegated from the top flight for the first time in their history last year. But thanks to some great business in the transfer market after winning immediate promotion back to the Saudi Pro League, their loyal fans have been rewarded this season with a team that looks very much in command in the elite division.
They battled right to the final whistle on Friday, with only the woodwork denying Riyad Mahrez a dramatic stoppage-time equalizer. And while Al Nassr dominated possession, Al Ahli engineered plenty of opportunities. Had heads been cooler in front of the goal, Matthias Jaissle’s side could well have scripted an impressive away win.
Among the major positives for the side was a first goal for Firas al-Buraikan since his recent move from Al Fateh. It was a particularly sweet strike, given that al-Buraikan had joined Al Nassr at the age of 11 and spent 10 years at the Riyadh outfit before moving on in 2021.
Al Ahli certainly has enough attacking talent to be competitive this season and although there are obvious issues in their defense that need rectification – nine goals have been conceded in their past two away games – their performance so far has shown that they have returned to where they belong.